history lesson

The Land of the Free

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, 1883

I don’t often get political in this space. But it’s hard to stay silent when so many blatant abuses of governmental power are taking place on a daily basis. Right now the Trump Administration is systematically tearing apart migrant families at the U.S. border, ripping children from their parents in an act of power that the American Society for Pediatrics calls “inhumane.” Children and parents alike are suffering inexcusable trauma, all because the Trump Administration has chosen to enforce a zero-tolerance policy it conveniently ignored only months before. (Read more about that here.)

As a parent, the idea of my child being ripped away from me is emotionally devastating in a way it wouldn’t have been before B was born. She is 23 months old, and she whimpers and clings to me at the idea of being left with a beloved babysitter for a few hours each day. I can only imagine the terror she would feel if a stranger who spoke a language she didn’t understand took her away from us and refused to tell her what was going on. I can only imagine the pain J and I would feel.

But this thought shouldn’t be emotionally devastating just because I’m a parent. It should be devastating because I’m a human being, because the right to asylum should not be denied to anyone, because families have the right to stay together, because I live in a country that supposedly welcomes everyone.

Oh, right. This country doesn’t welcome everyone. In fact, it never has.

Let Facts be submitted to a candid world:

America is a country built by immigrants, on land that was systematically stripped from its original inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, European colonists and Euro-Americans lied, cheated, tortured, and murdered their way into ripping land from whatever indigenous tribe happened to be living in their desired location. In the 19th century Andrew Jackson, the President who swore to defend the laws of his country, refused to enforce a Supreme Court ruling that the Cherokee nation was just that, a sovereign nation, so that gold- and land-hungry Georgians could force the Cherokee to move west on the Trail of Tears. Later laws and rulings pushed indigenous peoples further and further west, confining them to smaller and smaller territories, despite Native resistance, and condemned their children to residential schools that stripped them of their heritage.

But it’s better now, right?

Nope. Indigenous people are still fighting against territorial dispossession, exploitation of their natural resources, mass incarceration, health care disparities…and that’s just the beginning.

America is a country built by immigrants, and by enslaved Africans who were forced to migrate to this continent. As indigenous people proved to make for an intractable work force, and as the poor European immigrants who originally made up the population of indentured servants stopped coming to the colonies at all, colonists turned to African slaves to perform the back-breaking labor that would help make this country’s fortune. They lied, cheated, tortured, and murdered their way to a labor force that was denied the rights of humanity. And when the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery, when the descendants of African slaves dared demand the equal rights they were supposedly guaranteed by law, whites lied, cheated, tortured, and murdered their way to asserting their own supremacy once again.

But it’s better now, right?

Nope. African Americans are still fighting against disproportionate police violence, mass incarceration, systemic racism that affects housing, employment, healthcare…and that’s just the beginning.

America is a country built by immigrants, their identities are conveniently forgotten when whites got scared. Fearing “the other,” the undesirable immigrant from Ireland or Italy or Russia or China, Euro-Americans lied, cheated, tortured, and murdered their way to forcing immigrant workers to take only the most menial jobs, or not to come at all. And this tended to happen in response to a wave of immigration, as newcomers sought political freedom, religious asylum, job opportunities, or the chance not to die. In the 1840s and 1850s, at the height of the Irish potato famine, it was the Irish who were denied jobs at every business looking for workers. In the 1880s, after thousands of Chinese laborers immigrated to mine for gold, build railroads, or escape the Taiping Rebellion, it was the Chinese who were denied entry into the United States by the first significant U.S. law ever to restrict immigration. After WWI, when the government feared the divided loyalties of communist and anarchist immigrants, it was the Russians and the radicals who were systematically rounded up, arrested, and deported during the Palmer Raids.

But it’s better now, right?

Nope. America is a country built by immigrants, who seek power by systematically disenfranchising those who are not like them. It’s happened since the first colonists landed on the shores of Virginia. It continues to happen today.

I’m ashamed because I live in a country that continually offers the promise of freedom and then strips it away from anyone it deems unworthy. I’m ashamed because, as a white woman, I’ve benefited from these policies in complicated ways I don’t fully understand. I’m ashamed because we talk about the Trump Administration’s actions as though they’re unusually reprehensible when they’re just the latest in a long line of reprehensible and unforgivable actions.

So I’m trying to do something.

On Monday I donated to The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. There are loads of other organizations taking donations, too, should you be so inclined. My representatives vocally oppose the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, but you can contact your own representatives to encourage them to do so. Other ideas for action here and here.


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