“The human heart is the first home of democracy.” -Terry Tempest Williams, as quoted by Parker J. Palmer, “The Politics of the Broken Hearted” (2005)
“This ‘one nation, indivisible’ is deeply divided along political, economic, racial, and religious lines. And despite our historic dream of being “a light unto the nations,” the gaps between our global neighbors and us continue to grow more deadly. The conflicts and contradictions of twenty-first century life are breaking the American heart and threatening to compromise our democratic values,” Parker Palmer wrote.
Writers are the guardians of democracy. When a country has good writers, public policies are uplifted, and so is democracy.
But a writer needs a pure heart or they write about the politics of the broken-hearted, recycling fears, negativities and they threaten the foundations of democracy in America. It quickly disintegrates into a hateful nation full of imaginary illusions that the end is near because the immigrants are coming.
America used to feel as if the safest country for immigrants, the so-called, city up in the hill serving as a beacon of hope. The early pioneer/citizens of America are the indigenous Native Americans.
Later, slave workers imported from Africa, the Irish, Italians, Greeks, Germans, British, Jews, Polish who fled Europe became immigrants to the U.S., and decades after, the immigrants from South America, Asia, and Africa.
America is a nation of immigrants, built by our immigrant ancestors as well. One might logically expect that our policies would be more embracing of immigrants, but not under 45th U.S. President Donald Trump. The hostility towards migrants has increased under his tenure. He even who would not denounce white supremacy groups, instead, told the Proud Boys, a domestic white supremacist group classified by the FBI, to “stand back and stand by,” further validating them.
We, the voters, need not stand back and stand by to evil and hatred
A quick rundown of offensive happenings in 2018 to 2020 under this 45th U.S. President:
• 34 White House staffers and other contacts tested positive for the coronavirus after a White House event where over 200 folks attended with no masks and seated close to each other. The president and First Lady tested positive, as did Hope Hicks, Chris Christie, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and heads of the military. Fourteen were first identified as positive, then, which then grew to 34 individuals.
• Forced sterilizations of women under incarceration in 2020, who desire better futures for their children or risk starving to death, as crops no longer grow in their drought-stricken countries, a consequence of global warming.
• Medical negligence of ICE agents in not providing care to sick children under detention.
• Separating children from their families, some as young as infants and toddlers only to be given away to foster families, after the parents have been locked up. Trump was forced to sign an executive order in 2018 to stop the administration’s family separation policy.
Citizens resorted to fundraising and RAICES; a migrant support group in Texas got a deluge of donations of over $20 million.
• Sexual abuse of women under incarceration and with no provisions for their personal hygiene.
• Undocumented workers in the US paid $27 billion in federal taxes while in 2016, Pres. Trump paid $750 in federal taxes in 2016, the year he was elected, and paid zero in 10 out of 15 years.
• 218,097 Americans have died from Coronavirus and U.S. has 8,008,402 new confirmed cases as of October 16, 2020, per the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
Some might contend that Obama’s two terms between 2008-2016 were relatively organized and not chaotic. Yet, in 2008-2010, he too was attacked by immigrant advocacy groups. Newspapers then reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 800,000 undocumented immigrants in those two years.
In the first half of 2011, ICE‘s goal under Pres. Barack Obama was 411,000 deportations, exceeding prior years’ deportation metrics.
It was as if America has lost its direction, its moral compass, and its soul.
It took Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, to re-ignite the dialogue on immigration issues, when he shared his riveting personal story that he is undocumented.
Vargas recently shared in his Instagram post that “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” the book he wrote is now used as required reading in America’s high schools, changing the conversations about who is American and dispelling fear towards the undocumented.
“A Better Life” was a movie about a story of love between a gardener father who cuts trees in upscale LA neighborhoods and his teenage son who goes to an urban school in LA, challenged and terrorized by gangs in his school. Their lives were torn apart when the father was deported to Mexico.
During the film premiere, an octogenarian Hungarian dancer, M.W., stood up to compliment the producers. She said she identified with the characters and felt their fears, although she had nothing in common with them. Nonetheless, their fears felt like hers, during the Holocaust.
The same fears were depicted when I watched a documentary at the “Road to Freedom” exhibit in the Skirball Cultural Center. Rabbi Rachel Cowen described the civil rights movement as “a religion, a secular creed, a community, with values, its liturgy, its rituals, part of a larger narrative, with its high ideals that the world can improve, love would conquer, it would triumph.”
Dorothy Zellner spoke of her conviction, that when you see such inhumanity, there is a moral imperative to go: “thou shalt not stand idly by.”
Half of the white attorneys working in the South were Jews who felt a kinship with the injustice happening to the Black community. Rabbi Prinz shared “a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of their painful experience.” This mattered to him to take a stand: “will he allow these state troopers to kill in his name?”
Those were the dilemmas that they faced then, dilemmas that are ours now, confronted with the issue of immigration reform for 11 million undocumented individuals.
In 2011, I had a conversation with Fr. Alberto Carreon, 88, formerly the resident priest at Assumption Church, now residing at San Antonio de Padua Church. His special ministry then was to teach sobriety through faith. He was advocating for immigration reform, leading a 2,000 person strong rally in Nevada, and after, Senator Harry Reid’s staffers dialogued with him. His position was to revive the bracero program to give a legal path for permanent residency to those who want to work in the U.S. He believes that after three years of a consistent, law-abiding track record of employment, these workers have earned the right to apply for a green card.
Fr. Carreon cites the history of immigrants from Europe who fled to survive the holocaust unleashed by Nazi Germany. They were given their own paths to progress, facilitated by a change in their immigration status, legitimized by a humanitarian public policy. This public policy, he claimed, should also extend to those who fled their countries at the height of the civil war in El Salvador, and had some resettling in parts of Honduras and Mexico.
Note that the U.S. government propped up some of the dictators in these countries, causing citizens to leave, much like the exodus of Filipinos out of the Philippines, during the Marcos dictatorship.
By allowing those working in the harvest fields a path to legalization, backbreaking work that Americans shun, these immigrants can be legalized and fully contribute to this nation’s productivity and nation-building responsibilities.
Foreigners in innovation/manufacturing industries
A recent immigration panel organized by Coro Leadership estimated the U.S. economy could grow by a trillion, if immigration reform is enacted for the 11 million undocumented.
In Silicon Valley, immigrants did most of the startups in technology. Slate cited that Andy Grove, Intel’s former chairman, and CEO, was born in Hungary in 1936 and immigrated to the United States in his 20s. Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo, was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to San Jose, CA, with his family as a child. Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google, came to the United States from his native Russia when he was 6 years old.
These aren’t special cases: foreigners founded about one-quarter of American tech companies in part or entirely. The proportion in Silicon Valley is even higher—a recent survey by Vivek Wadhwa distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering at Silicon Valley and Fellow at Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School showed that more than 52% of Silicon Valley startups were founded or co-founded by people born outside of the United States. According to Wadhwa’s research, immigrant-founded firms produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers in 2005.
Since the mid-1980s, Silicon Hills has been set up in Western Austin, Texas led by Dell, followed by Hewlett Packard, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Apple, eBay, Oracle, and Facebook with established headquarters or offices in the area.
An updated report on the rate of immigrant entrepreneurship from 2006 to 2012 shows a decline of immigrant start-ups from 52.4% to 43.9%. While these innovation/manufacturing firms generated $63 billion in sales from 2006 to 2012, the immigration policies have resulted in an exodus of talents, and America’s loss has now become the world’s gains.
It became even more hostile, as foreign students are not allowed back into the United States if their classes are held online, a necessary learning pathway, given the highly contagious Coronavirus.
America is at a crossroads.
Should we consider opening our hearts to know the undocumented stories, and perhaps extend a hand to them? Or do we define who is American narrowly?
Or do we keep feeding the unconscious hatred in our hearts, nurtured by false news stories, enough to scare others to arm themselves with assault rifles, previously used in foreign wars by the military? How did these war weapons end up in the hands of right-wing groups and even some police agencies?
When we contemplate and reflect, we might find our hearts breaking open, purging the hatred and indifference to “others,” to allow “those different from us,” to come in.
Consider watching “Yellow Rose,” a film about an aspiring country singer and her undocumented family in Texas. Hollywood Reporter’s October issue described it as:
“Fifteen years in development, writer-director Diane Paragas’ ‘Yellow Rose’ arrives at a fraught point in the national immigration debate with its Texas-set story of an undocumented Filipina single mother and her teenage daughter struggling to remain in the U.S. ‘Miss Saigon’ Tony Award winner Lea Salonga’s name may be the most prominent in the cast, but rising star Eva Noblezada also earned a Tony nomination for her performance in the Broadway revival of the period musical, in the role originated by Salonga. Here Noblezada plays 17-year-old Rose Garcia, who lives at a tatty roadside motel on the outskirts of Austin, where her mother, Priscilla (Princess Punzalan), has worked cleaning rooms since the two arrived from the Philippines years earlier.”
Come November 3, 2020 — and even as early as October 5, 2020, when mail-in ballots started being sent out to California voters — please vote and mail them early. Or drop your completed ballots in secured ballot boxes.
It is time to set aside our fears and renew America to be: a nation indivisible, a true light upon the nations! We need to recapture the soul of America, once a beacon of hope for the entire world.
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 12 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.