One of the great things about America is that just about everyone, at some point in their familial line, has an amazing and compelling immigration story. We often forget this, as we spit venom towards those who cross our borders, a tactic that has been replayed again and again over the generations.
We’re a nation of nomads, of frontiersmen and women, of expansionists. Our nation’s culture is tied up in and around cultures who are hundreds and thousands of years older than ours. While we certainly have created an American culture over the past 235+ years, we are still the sum of every culture that has passed through the nation’s doors. As Eric Weiner puts it in “The Geography of Bliss” (yes, I know, been quoting this book frequently recently. I have no shame in that!):
We are shaped not only by our current geography but by our ancestral one as well. Americans, for instance, retain a frontier spirit even though the only frontier that remains is the vast open space between SUV and strip mall. We are our past.
That frontier spirit is a collective one, where we long for the ethereal ‘freedom.’ An American present and future that denies others that most inalienable right is a nation we will not recognize. We need to tap into our collective unconscious, as Jung would say, and tell those harrowing and joyous immigration stories of our past; of our parents, grandparents, all down the line. We need to remind our elected officials how previous generations of immigrants were the backbone to “the American Dream” they love so much.
We say something along the lines of, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” yet it often seems like we have selective amnesia when we try to reform. Not just on immigration, but on issues like those absolute and unassailable rights only some of us are lucky enough to have. Hopefully, as we enter the Campaign 2012 election cycle, we can have intellectually honest discussions, discourse and debate. Let the invisible hand of the marketplace of ideas become a visible and vocal reality.