Yesterday was Father’s Day in the U.S. , that commercial innovation designed to sell goods and greeting cards and, oh yes, to recognize the important role of dads in our society. The date also happens to be my wedding anniversary, that moment in time forty-six years ago when Katie and I formed our official Sheppard partnership. It’s a nice overlap. Certainly, the marital partnership led to the four children who called their father yesterday with thanks and good wishes. Marriage and fatherhood. It was a good day.
It seems conventional and predictable, to celebrate these kinds of events in our lives. That does not diminish their enjoyment, but it recognizes the expectation that celebrations of family are meant to happen, and often. I felt a special gratitude yesterday, maybe because I keep getting older, with an increasing awareness that, despite their regularity, these special days are finite in life. Or maybe there was a nagging awareness in the back of my mind about children elsewhere in our country being separated from their fathers and mothers in the name of the law. And that is disturbing.
My intention here is not to wade into the great immigration debate within our country; there are enough voices disagreeing about that already. But there is a distinction between enforcing border security versus tearing families apart as a punishment for border violation. The practice is not only philosophically reprehensible, even as a deterrent to illegal immigration, but carries an eerie similarity to the separation of Jewish children from their parents at Nazi concentration camps. Our nation’s posture on this matter is an expression of our values and our morality; I wonder whether this is truly a reflection of who we have become as a people.
The U.S. Attorney General has responded to the criticisms of this policy of separation by observing, “Well, we are not putting them in jail.” To excuse an abusive and inhumane practice by comparing it to something even worse is no excuse at all. At the end of the day, after all the explanations and defenses and rationalizations, children are being taken from their parents. In some cases, according to government personnel, they are taken under the pretext of taking them for a bath, and with no guarantee of ever being reunited with mom and dad. It’s a punishment which the children do not deserve in any context. But here in the U.S.?
Further defense of the practice falls along the lines of “the law,” that the law requires that this practice be carried out, and that if the practice is to end, it must be the U.S. Congress (noted these days for its inability to pass any kind of meaningful legislation) which takes the responsibility. But it must be noted that the immigration law being referenced in this defense was also the law under at least two previous administrations. In neither case was the separation of families used as a means of torture.
We are at an immigration crossroads in our country. The topic has been discussed and debated, leveraged and used, with words couched in sympathy and actions devoid of empathy: more than 1300 children have been separated from their families thus far. The untruths about which political party is more to blame is meaningless. On Father’s Day, 2018, children are being separated from their families. That’s all we need to know.
I had a memorable Father’s Day and anniversary yesterday. It was a good day. But it could have been a lot better….
First, a couple of caveats. (Though this is never a wise practice in one’s writing.) I normally try to steer clear of political party or opinion in these posts, because that’s not what Winds of Peace is about and political opinion is like pollution of all sorts: it’s everywhere. Second, my intention is not to sway anyone’s beliefs when it comes to politics. If something that I write makes a reader reconsider an opinion that he/she holds, that’s entirely up to them. But every once in a while, someone from the political ranks says or does something that, in my view, merits response. That’s what this posting is about.
I read that former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has called for the deportation of all people of the Muslim faith who profess belief in Sharia law– not engaged in illegal activities, but merely believing in a certain religious philosophy. It’s the latest in a series of xenophobic ideas to emerge from so-called political “leaders” in this country, but an idea which is both unconstitutional and logistically impossible. Gingrich, who has often promoted unconventional ideas, has clearly exceeded even the boundaries of his own narrow perspectives. But his concept of extreme prejudice got me to thinking, “what if?”
Gingrich seems to desire a return of Muslim immigrants to their countries of origin due to the fear that, based upon their beliefs and the violent actions of some constituents of the faith, they will undermine the security and safety of U.S. society. For the sake of argument, let’s go along with Mr. Gingrich’s postulate and see where it leads.
First, it might be helpful to know where Mr. Gingrich stands with regard to his own religious faith. He was raised in a Lutheran home environment, though the denomination never seemed to resonate with him. Later, in graduate school, he became a Southern Baptist convert and most recently he converted to Roman Catholicism.
In any case, it seems as though he may have unwittingly and retrospectively condemned himself and his entire family to deportation from the U.S. For the annals of criminal justice are brimming over with convicted murderers of all three of the faiths followed by Newt Gingrich. In his proposal for Muslim deportation, he has condemned all Muslims based upon the actions of some who have killed or vowed to kill U.S. citizens. If that suggestion has rationale, then we certainly must be prepared to deport Lutherans, Southern Baptists as Roman Catholics, since like some Muslims, their followers have presented threats to the peace and security of this country.
Perhaps it should also be pointed out that during World War II, the Nazi regime was led by a number of “staunch Christians,” including their maddened leader, Adolph Hitler. There is no argument about the threat which Adolph Hitler posed to the U.S. during his reign of terror, but I doubt that Mr. Gingrich would opine retrospectively about the propriety of expelling Christians from the U.S.
If we go back in history far enough, he might even consider the external threat posed to the original inhabitants of this land and the deadly, culture-destroying invasion of Europeans here. They, too, were driven by a divine faith which clashed with established religious practice of our earliest ancestors. They, too, (or their descendants) perhaps warrant deportation.
Taken to its logical conclusion, Mr. Gingrich seems to have set the table for all people to be sent back to the land of their earliest discernible ancestry. For many Nicaraguans, that might be Spain. For many inhabitants of the Americas, it’s Europe. We all might find ourselves asking one another, “where did your people come from?” Because under Mr. Gingrich’s logic, we should be sent back.
The constitutional tenets of this country provide for each of us to read and believe whatever we may choose, as long as we do not violate laws or the rights of others. Mr. Gingrich has put forward an idea that utterly rejects that freedom and thus, the U.S. Constitution itself.
The analogies here might seem stretched. But no more so than the panicky abdication of legal and moral rights expressed by a man who, until this week, was apparently under consideration for the vice-presidency of the United States. We are always but one voice removed from another human tragedy….
For the most part, I like to reserve comments here for topics which are specific to Nicaragua and the people and organizations with whom we work. But occasionally, I come across something written by someone else, something which has profound meaning for any of us, whether in Nicaragua, the U.S. or another place. One of those important stories appeared in the Opinion Pages of The Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper. I invite you to read this important recounting of one man’s encounter with ignorance and bigotry, in an unlikely venue.
It was my first Minnesota Vikings game and my first NFL game. I am not new to football, though. As an undergrad at Boston College, I went to many Eagles games, and I played junior varsity football. I knew what to expect on the field. I was excited, and, as I found my seat, I thought about bringing my family to a game in the new stadium.
What I didn’t expect was for a man to push aside other people and point his finger in my face, demanding to know if I was a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.
I was stunned. He didn’t know anything about me. We were complete strangers. But somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.
He didn’t know that I have lived in Minnesota for the past four years, that I was born and raised in New York and that the words “Never Forget” may mean more to me than to him. He didn’t know that when I went home and my children jumped on top of me and asked “How was the game?” that I’d be holding back tears as I told them about racism instead of touchdowns. He didn’t know that I am an attorney and the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program at the Advocates for Human Rights.
It was also abundantly clear that he didn’t know about refugees, dignity or freedom. He didn’t know that if he were speaking to a refugee, he’d be speaking to someone who feared persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. He didn’t know that many refugees are victims of some of the worst human-rights abuses occurring on the planet, ranging from being sold into sexual slavery to being killed in mass executions. He didn’t know that being a refugee is a badge of resilience and honor, not danger.
In that moment, I was terrified. But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.
The man eventually moved on. I found security staff, and with a guard and friend at my side, I confronted the man on the concessions level. I told him that what he said was racist and that what he did scared me. I told him that I was afraid to return to my seat and that I was afraid that people were going to hurt me. I told him that what he did makes me afraid for my children.
Somewhere during that second confrontation there was a change. Maybe some humanity crept inside him. Maybe he felt the presence of the security guard. While he said he was sorry, his apology was uttered in an adolescent way that demonstrated that he felt entitled to reconciliation as much as he felt entitled to hurl hatred. He wanted to move on and enjoy the game. I told him that I didn’t want his apology. Rather, I wanted him ejected from the stadium because he made me feel unsafe.
The security staff talked with him privately. I don’t know what was said. He was not removed. Apparently, the Vikings do not think that hate speech and racism are removable offenses. My gameday experience was ruined. I tried to focus on the players, but I continued to take glances at the man who sat just a few yards away. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder, wondering if he had inspired someone else. It was clear that I would not be bringing my family to a Vikings game.
I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning for us all. It is like smoke. Imagine your office, church or stadium filling with smoke, while everyone acted like nothing was wrong. That smoke eventually becomes an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world to commit horrendous crimes, the type of fire that can bring down the entire building. As President Obama stated in his address from the Oval Office on Sunday evening: “[I]t is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” It is up to us all, from individual bystanders to institutions as big as the Vikings, to respond to and to stop the spread of racism and hate.
(Deepinder Mayell is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.)
This tale caused me to shiver, literally. I shook from both anger and fear. I was angry at the baseless, insulting assault on a man attending an afternoon football game. The assailant might have just as well pummeled Mr. Mayell with a club. I was angry at the recognition that, even in the presumably well-mannered Midwest, episodes of irrational prejudice can be manifest anywhere. I was angry at the stadium security people for tolerating such behavior. (I have seen them less tolerant on far lesser behaviors.)
But mostly, I shivered at the silence exhibited by those seated amidst the confrontation. Their silence permitted and even sanctioned the assault. Their failure to defend an innocent spectator might even be seen as a more egregious disregard than the actions of the attacker; he acted on the basis of blind hatred, while the others displayed a silent and collective cowardice which tacitly condoned the bullying abuse.
We often wonder to ourselves how we might respond to emergencies such as at an accident scene or a fire. Would we have the courage to act? In the case of the silent seat mates at the Vikings football game, I’m afraid the answer to that introspection would be a resounding “no.” I pray that I might never be guilty of such indifference….
Where water passes, there is life (E. Valdés S.J.)
In a previous article we invited people to search for alternatives for the so-called “Central American dry corridor”, a zone that is an expression of the effects of climate change and social injustice in the region, part of it being low quality soils and populated by peasant families expelled from another area dominated by monocropping haciendas (cotton, sugar cane, peanuts…) on historically high quality land and used for extensive ranching (See: http://peacewinds.org/the-drought-social-injustice-and-the-opportunity-for-change/ ). This search for alternatives is even more urgent on learning that, according to the 2015 Climate Risk Index, between 1994 and 2013 Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala are among the 10 countries most affected in the world by climate events (See: https://germanwatch.org/en/download/10343.pdf). In this article we discuss one of those options that is applicable to all the areas of the country and valid for Latin America. Based on the innovative work of the Rural Development Commission (CODER), supported by the Irish Catholic Agency for Development, TROCAIRE, in the dry municipalities of San Francisco, Cinco Pinos, Santo Tomás and San Pedro in the Chinandega Province (Nicaragua), we contend that a change in the rules of the leasing system as a result of the organized advancement of rural families would help to improve the efficiency, equity and agricultural and non-agricultural sustainability, and in the long term revert the drought.
Para-phrasing R. Fallas S.J., peasant families without land are like beings without souls, land is accessed via the family (e.g. inheritance), community, state and the market. According to Deere and León (2003, “The Gender Asset Gap: Land in Latin America” in: World Development 31.6), women acquire land more through inheritance, while men do so via the community, state and market. The leasing market is a way of accessing the land, of increasing efficiency in agriculture, and equity in terms of small producer access; so 41% of all the land in Europe is leased, 41% in the United States, 32% in Africa, 16% in Asia and 12% in Latin America (de Janvry, Marcours y Sadoulet, 2002, “El acceso a tierras a través del arrendamiento” in: IADB, El acceso a la tierra en la agenda de desarrollo rural). The experience of France stands out, with more than 60% of their land areas leased, with a stable leasing law since 1946 that allows whole farms to be leased for periods of up to 18 years, transferable rights (in the case of the death of the spouse and/or children), and with leasing prices set each year by a provincial commission; and it is a legislation that protects family agriculture, for example, with an egalitarian law on inheritances. These accomplishments in France are primarily due to decades of effort on the part of the peasant movement to access land without having to buy it, nor wait for an agrarian reform. (See: http://www.agter.org/bdf/es/corpus_chemin/fiche-chemin-333.html; http://www.agter.org/bdf/es/corpus_chemin/fiche-chemin-55.html).
Following de Janvry, Marcours and Sadoulet (2002), leased land tends to be used by families who have little land and by family workers who voluntarily are more productive, that is the reason for their greater efficiency; mostly the transfer is from large land owners to small scale leasers, that is the reason for the poverty reduction; while the very imperfect and biased land markets favor the large producers who buy land off of the small ones, who have less possibilities of buying land (de Janvry, Platteau, Gordillo y. Sadoulet, 2001, “Access to Land and Land Policy Reforms”, in: de Janvry, Gordillo, Platteau and Sadoulet, Access to Land, Rural Poverty and Public Action). Why then is leasing in Latin America at only 12%? From the perspective of the owners, property rights are weak, the laws frequently change and their application (and conflict resolution) is costly; information is inadequate to do a good selection of renters, the local social capital is weak for honoring the leasing contract, and frequently agrarian reforms happen that later do not have registered titles, and when they have titles, their leasing is prohibited. From the perspective of the renters, their few resources limit their access to the market, they lack animals and credit, the opening of roads makes food production for their own use less necessary, even though the higher quality land is in demand for intensive crops (e.g. tobacco) from producers with more capital; and we would add, the producer families have weak organizations and their influence over policy is controlled.
These factors generate lack of confidence among the owners to lease their land for a number of years, and even less to the same people, and makes them resist transacting with people outside their circle of trust; and the same with the renter who is afraid of the abuses of the owner. The low level of leasing means a lot of land gets left unused or is used for extensive livestock raising. Even this low percentage of leasing is done for a year or less, which is why it is only for basic grain crops; both situations, extensive livestock raising and only annual crops, in the long term, contribute to soil erosion and the factors that contribute to the drought, in addition to increasing poverty.
Nevertheless, in the last 10 years there is a new context that could invigorate the leasing systems: drought is reducing the amount of feed and the water for the cattle herd, the large ranchers are not getting into farming because of the high costs of supervising the labor force; people who are migrating from dry zones, are leaving their lands in the hands of some relative; and more and more the end of the agricultural frontier is being felt, many times even with increasing violence on the Caribbean Coast. The reduction in the profitability of extensive agriculture is also felt due to the fact that the land is already “worn out”, which requires intensive and ecologically sustainable agriculture and ranching. What is the response to this new context?
The experience of CODER, an innovative seed
The four municipalities (San Francisco, Santo Tomás, San Pedro and Cinco Pinos), founded over more than 100 years ago, illustrate the description of Latin America and this emerging context. The large rancher is seeing their grazing land dry up, and calculates that the costs of supervision are high if he decides to hire labor to raise basic grains, while the peasant families with little or no land see themselves forced to migrate to ensure food for their families. In the face of this situation the leasing system offers some relief, which, improved through the mediation of CODER, indicates a path with good transformative potential. See the Table.
-provides land for one agricultural cycle (4 months) for C$1000, and whether the harvest is good or bad, he gets the post harvest stubble for his cattle, valued at C$1000, in addition to the fodder that grows on the rented manzana.
-can hire labor of the leasing family to weed or do domestic work
-grows corn (10qq, C$3000) and beans (10 qq, C$4000); 60% of production costs
-assumes 100% risk if the harvest is bad.
-the land is left ‘worn out” and the following cycle he seeks out another “hill” to plant
-leadership is assumed by the male
Improved leasing (with the mediation of CODER)
-provides land for first planting for 3 years at C$1300/yr (a roll of barbed wire each year that costs C$900, in addition to 4 days of work that adds up to C$400).
-good rows for fodder and living and dead barriers (prevents soil erosion due to rain), estimated value of C$1000/mz/yr
-whether the harvest is good or bad he gets the use of the stubble valued at C$1100; it is better stubble
-grows corn (12qq, C$3600) and beans (12 qq, C$4800); 65% of the production costs. In year 3 production increases and 60% of production costs.
-stays on the same area for 3 years
-assumes 100% of the risk if the harvest is bad, but risk of bad harvest is lessened.
-leadership is assumed by the female.
“Traditional leasing” produces economic advantages for both, but only for one year, then the land is left in poorer shape and continues to be exposed to erosion; neither the leaser nor the owner want to continue with this relationship in the same area; in fact, in other municipalities like Palacagüina the ranchers see themselves forced to lease out their land without charge, under the condition that they leave them the stubble from the crop, even though the power asymmetry persists and many times the property owner forces the renter to harvest their corn early. The “improved leasing” creates greater advantages: year after year both earn more economically, the land also improves its quality and erosion is prevented; there is a smaller risk of a bad harvest because of the soil conservation works, which also means better post harvest stubble for the rancher; the corn or beans are better used because the leasing families led by women, in addition to ensuring food for their families, transform the corn into tortillas to sell, and the beans they sell by the pound and also cooked; relationships of trust are built between renting women and land owners, which could augur negotiation processes that would further improve the leasing system.
The key to this “improved leasing” is in the fact that the arrangement is for 3 years instead of only 1, which allows investing in soil quality, that benefits the leaser (more production), and the owner (soil quality and better post harvest stubble). This is possible thanks to the fact that CODER, a local association, has leadership that comes from a peasant-farmer background, and have had interchanges of experience with French agronomists around leasing (See: http://www.agter.org/bdf/es/corpus_chemin/fiche-chemin-355.html), which has given them legitimacy to be able to be guarantors of the notarized, signed leasing agreement, mediators in conflict resolution, and providers of technical assistance to BOTH actors.
Introduction of changes to the leasing system
“Improved leasing” shows us a path that, changing the rules and including coordination among various actors, can have a better economic, social and environmental impact. This path speaks to us of the urgency of expanding it, because 3 years are not enough for adding permanent crops like citrus, coffee, cacao, fruit or wood or energy trees, which also would contribute to the cattle feed and protecting areas of water replenishment. When the 3 years come to an end, the actors go back to the pre-leasing situation, including its consequences for soil erosion, scarcity of cattle feed, and human migration. The same happens with the gender relations that tend to regress. How can sustainable changes be generated in the leasing rules? We propose what we are calling “leasing plus”: reform the agrarian law to permit 15 year and even 20 year leases, ensuring legal stability so that those contracts are respected, and include reform of the law so that inheritances be given equally to sons and daughters, which would allow for those children who might not want to work the land to lease it out; these reforms, especially their sustainability, will be possible to the extent that producer families organize and promote them.
These results require inclusive processes. Local organizations like CODER, in coordination with DIRAC (Alternative Conflict Resolution Office of the judicial branch), could facilitate negotiations between renters and owners, and conflict resolution that gets beyond the abuses toward more lasting social arrangements and more adequate laws. Research institutions could study the various forms of leasing, including sharecropping, and think about leasing to groups, leases with the option to buy, community or cooperative supervision of the leases. Financial and technical and organizational assistance institutions could contribute to awakening in the landless families and the owners a long term vision and an effort and transformation awareness.
This leasing plus could contribute to efficiency, social and gender equity, and environmental sustainability, strengthening the peasant and farmer forms of production. And with this, the drought would give way to diversified zones with protected water sources, understanding that truly where water passes, there is life. Under this umbrella, the biggest challenge will no longer be accessing land, but being a farmer and being an organized farmer.
* René (email@example.com) has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/), an associate researcher with the IOB-Antwerp University (Belgium) and of the Nitlapan-UCA Research and Development Institute (Nicaragua).
** I am grateful to P. Merlet and J. Bastiaensen for their comments and suggestions for improving the article.
It’s an exciting time for many in this country, with the first visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. Some 70 million U.S. Catholics notwithstanding, it’s remarkable to see and to feel the excitement generated by this pope. Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been mesmerized by the rock star quality of this man and, more notably, of his message about taking care of each other and the planet. It’s a moment to savor, this feel-good visit from someone who has the capacity to generate an upbeat and hopeful message; not many could do it. But it also creates a disconnect for us, as we cheer the messenger while simultaneously spurning the message.
Like many, I have watched copious news coverage of the papal visit, out of interest and curiosity. I’m both interested in hearing the topics that Francis has chosen to highlight and curious about our collective and positive reaction to him and “the higher Chief” to whom Francis reports. But I wonder about the gap that exists there, one that Francis has referenced on several occasions in his talks here. That distance between the emotional uplift of this man’s visit and the reality of our daily actions is wide, and I am confounded by that space.
How is it possible that we can be so emotionally and spiritually attuned to the lessons Francis brings, while at the same time living our lives deaf to our own opportunities to respond? Matters of climate and environment, poverty and hunger, stewardship and servanthood have seemingly captivated the pope’s audiences around the world- now including the U.S.- at a time when the debate rhetoric around such issues has never been more polarized and heated. And we are all the same in this spiritual conundrum that afflicts us between our feeling and our doing.
Catholics from Latin America are especially in love with Francis, for he is “of them” and speaks to Latin Americans in their own language, a connection which is treasured. From country to country Francis is welcomed by heads of state who cherish the moments of being in the presence of the pope and his hopeful message, only to return all-too-frequently to their autocratic regimes of favoritism, exclusion and oppression. Even in the rural reaches, professors of the faith who hold a very proprietary view of Francis and his humble servanthood will too often seek to take advantage of opportunities for gain over good character. We are seemingly infected with the virus of selfhood.
In Europe, the pontiff is received upon red carpets and with gifts of expressive love by leaders who, in some cases, have slammed shut the doors of receptive love on the very homeless about whom the pope continually reminds us. Particularly on the European continent, we are afflicted with the disease of short memory about dispossession and relocation.
In the U.S., political leaders have clamored to be among those in audience with the pope; few were absent as Francis addressed Congress. Yet some of these eager faces will reflect a far different countenance in the days to come as the country weighs national interests of short-term corporate health against interests of long-term personal, national and global well-being, of political postures versus strength of character, of support for military revolutions in contrast to Francis’ “revolution of tenderness and love.” Here, we are seemingly diseased through our affluence and power.
The observations and questions posed here are not intended to be accusatory or pejorative to anyone other than perhaps myself. To be sure, we are complex beings with internally competing motives that shape us day by day, even hour-by-hour. We are human, imperfect by definition. We cannot be perfectly consistent because we live in dynamic surroundings, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual. We are subject to awesome and unexpected changes to our lives, alterations which can be both unanticipated and unexplainable. Our world is transforming every day, in ways seen and unseen to most of us.
But almost despite those realities, Pope Francis has been able to reach out to the world with a message that has caught us off-guard but which is full of possibilities. The receptivity to that message does not depend entirely in the voice of the deliverer, but in the hearts and minds of the rest of us. Francis has asked us to be our best selves. Consistency between that ideal and our daily actions is entirely within our command. Deep down, that’s why we’re so glad the pope is here, sharing his universal words of humility and hope, and why we long to embrace both him and his message….
Like many, I’ve been reading and watching the news about the plight of the refugees streaming into Europe. It is heart-wrenching to watch the overloaded boats, the bodies of those who did not survive washed ashore, the streams of humanity marching into central European countries looking for any chance to survive. I sense that even the news reporters are finding this subject difficult to cover, in part due to their own emotions at this enormous catastrophe which is unfolding before us each day.
The scope of this tragedy is such that I have found myself remembering other times, other stories of similar human disasters. Of course, the Holocaust is the first to come to mind. The enormity of it still defies comprehension, even after all the years and books and movies and even personal visits to historic and dreadful sites. We recall with discomfort the genocides of Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan and others. I have learned all too clearly the evils perpetrated on the people of Nicaragua by my own government during the decade of the 80’s. Too soon the atrocities have faded from our memories; outrage has cooled to the extent that globally we allow something like the Syrian debacle unfold today.
I suppose that it is the human condition that we will always have unfinished work before us. At the close of World War II, the mantra of “never again” filled the world with hope that maybe this time we had sufficiently absorbed the lessons of hatred, demonization of an entire people, war. But that hope was short-lived at best and the passage of time allowed a dulling of our sensitivities sufficient to permit subsequent abominations.
The sea of refugees seeking survival from war and indiscriminate death is an overwhelming reality threatening to drown Europe in waves of displaced humanity and despair. Gradually, some countries have stepped forward with offers of asylum and assistance. The Vatican itself has said that it would accept two families into their midst in a symbolic act of mercy and a call for all nations to serve. But as some countries continue to build miles of fences and to reject opportunities for providing humanitarian help, the future for hundreds of thousands remains uncertain.
Their plight rekindles thoughts of those other occasions when humanity seemed to be on the brink of simply not caring enough. In each of those eras, the post-crisis analysis almost always included unanswered questions about why the rest of the world waited to act, allowing so many to perish in the process. Of course, in the aftermath of such cataclysms such questions are safe to ask since the drama has come to an end. Retrospective analysis is more comfortable than current actions. The questions are much more difficult to grapple with when the events are happening now, in real time. Such is our discomfort with the refugees’ dilemma in Europe.
As is true for any world conflict which begs for intervention by someone, somewhere, governments speak for us in the absence of opportunities for us to speak for ourselves. As limiting as that arrangement may be, each of us retains a voice, a stance, a position that begs to be heard. Those voices are ours. The actions belong to each of us. Somebody ought to do something before the current humanitarian quandary becomes another history lesson of grief and embarrassment….
With apologies to author Robert Fulgham, I couldn’t help but recall his enormously successful book as I’ve listened to the heating debate about immigration among Republican presidential candidates. Insofar as every one of those leaders is a product of immigration to this country, I thought it might be of some value to recall at least some of the admonitions for wisdom that Fulgham offered in his classic book.
Share Everything- We’re taught at an early age that it’s important to ensure everyone has enough: toys, cookies, rewards, being loved and respected. By and large, we haven’t done very well with this as adults, especially with basic life necessities. We’ve heard many times how something like 80 individuals in the world own as many resources as half (or more) of the rest of the people on the planet. That’s not a very convincing example of sharing, particularly when so many of the have-not’s are living day-to-day in sub-human conditions. History and reality both suggest that a primary motivation for many immigrants is the need to improve their economic status. Most don’t wish to leave their homeland for another spot in the world; they simply must go to where the opportunity is. Sometimes it’s good to give up our place in the lunch line for somebody else.
Play Fair- A corollary to the above, playing fair suggests that in a competitive world where people should expect to be rewarded according to their efforts, a rigged game signals to the players that there are no rules anymore, that everyone is subject only to what he/she can gain for him/herself and that creative sidestepping of the rules is not only permissible but oftentimes heavily rewarded. If CEOs and investment bankers and even nations are immune from penalty for violating rules, the signal is clear for someone considering a cross of the nation’s border. What is there to lose? If the teacher is a cheater, the lesson to be learned is that fairness is for fools.
Don’t Hit People- Especially not with clubs or tasers or fists or bullets. Regardless of where any candidate might stand on the immigration issue, the matter resides at a level of importance somewhere far below the sanctity of human life. As complex and persistent as the immigration problem has become, its solutions won’t be found in the box of punitive punishment. Not even death itself has proven to be a deterrent for the desperate. Hitting just hurts, and not only the victims.
Clean Up Your Own Mess- A push in kindergarten is almost always preceded by an instigating act by someone else, whether seen or not. The push is merely the response that happens to be observed. Illegal immigration is most often motivated by untenable economic circumstances. And those circumstances have been magnified by treaties, agreements and accords that favored our country and its own economic interests in exaggerated ways. As a result, the option of remaining in Mexico or Nicaragua or Honduras evaporates in the wake of the social and economic consequences of messy agreements. Our political candidates claim that illegal immigrants cross the U.S. borders knowing what the consequences are likely to be. But those same candidates must also recognize the likely consequences of economic repression, one of which is desperation-fueled immigration. It’s easier to serve as a model for international behavior if our own cubbyhole is clean.
Don’t Take Things That Aren’t Yours- For every crayon pilfered in kindergarten, there are at least an equal number of excuses for the theft offered up by the filching felon: “it’s my turn, he doesn’t need it, she’s had it long enough,” or “I need it to finish my own work.” While any of them may be true, none excuse the behavior. It’s no different in the competition for resources across the globe. Whether oil, agriculture resources, water, geographic access or any other motive, taking what belongs to someone else is wrong, even when we’re the ones doing the taking.
Keep Your Hands (and arms) to Yourself- If economic desperation is one of the prime motivations for immigration, then flight from the ravages of war is the other. When physical danger from bombs and gunfire threatens life, then there is nothing to lose in trying to flee to a safer zone, even when such flight violates law. Too often, the manufacturer’s label on those ammunitions contains the words “Made in U.S.A.” Even when our nation is not engaged in confrontation with one of our national neighbors, our fingerprints are curiously omnipresent in the horrors of many homelands.
Say You’re Sorry When You Hurt Somebody- Apology and forgiveness. They are the cornerstones of any relationship, because we live in an imperfect world with fellow humans who are as imperfect as we ourselves. No individual, no nation, is without fault. But the offering of forgiveness is a response to apology; it works best when the apology comes first. The immigration conundrum might be less divisive, less of a political “cause celebre” and even less complex when our nation acknowledges a system that is misleading and unfair to all the kids on the playground.
Well, Fulgham’s treatise on living life well has been panned by many as being too simplistic for the sophisticated and complicated world of today. It might be too simpleminded for immigration analysis, as well. Perhaps. But it also offers an alternative to the process in which we find ourselves today, where political rhetoric includes demonizing an entire ethnic class, building higher walls between nations, and minimizing the desperate realities of other human beings. Maybe there’s one more Fulgham idea worth contemplating: hold hands and stick together….
I read many reflections, blogs and printed materials over the course of each week, mostly having to do with Nicaragua and various forms of aid and development work being done there. Some are very good and others less so, but I came across one a few days ago that I think bears repeating here. It is taken from the newsletter published by the Center for Development in Central America (CDCA), which has worked in Nicaragua for the past twenty years as of 2014. CDCA has worked tirelessly on behalf of impoverished Nicaraguans on many fronts, and Winds of Peace has been able to work with them on several projects over the years.
I have reproduced reflections from their newsletters in the past, and I do so here with an analysis for your consideration which gets straight to the heart of a major U.S./Central American policy issue, the immigration of Central American children.
There are many issues around the response of the government of the United States and many of its people regarding the children crossing the border: immigrants vs. refugees, corrupt Central American governments (and yes they are still propped up by the U.S. government as they have been for 100 years), drug trafficking, gangs, Democrats vs. Republicans.
So many issues bandied about and yet- in reality- the only issue that exists is: do we welcome the stranger? The child? Or do we not? That’s it. Simple. Clean. Do we or do we not?
People frequently ask us why we like living in Nicaragua. Well, this is one reason: Nicaragua DOES welcome refugees. Let’s face it, people fleeing their poor countries have to be mighty desperate to come to Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. But they do come and they are coming and Nicaragua, more than any other Central American country, affords them more access to their social safety nets- such as they are.
What does that say when the second poorest nation is receiving refugees while the richest is turning children away? What does that say about the soul of the richest nation?
The leaders of the Nicaraguan government, who are not perfect by any means, understand what it means to live under dictators, death squads, terror and horror, and they translate that understanding into action by welcoming others who are living it now.
Why would you send your children on such a dangerous journey with strangers? Mine are grown, and the only reason I would send them thousands of miles away, riding on top of trains, would be if I thought…no, if I KNEW…they would die if they stayed. Do the people in the States who debate this “crisis” and advocate deporting the children really believe in their hearts that Central American families love their children less than they love their own?
Frankly, the only actual crises are the crises in the nations from which the children come… not in the U.S.
In Honduras, the city of San Pedro Sula has more murders per capita than any other place in Honduras, which has more murders per capita than any other country in the world. During July alone, in this small country, 87 teens and children were murdered, some tortured, and the vast majority of the culprits were not found.
And this is where the first nine children were deported to… San Pedro Sula. Depending on accounts, 5 or 7 of the nine were killed soon after landing. Killed. We, the U.S., sent children back to be murdered. Does this mean that the deportation will stop? No, it does not.
Choosing whether or not to welcome these refugees is easy. Choosing whether or not to deport these children to die is simple. This is not a complicated issue… we are not in muddy water here, folks… it is a clean issue, because there is really and truly only one right place to stand… with the kids… we need to stand with the kids.
Who are the strangers we encounter? And what should we do with the stranger….?