Commentary

The faces of immigrants are everywhere

February 21, 2019 1:53 pm

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Contrary to widely mistaken popular belief, immigrants and the profound role they play in U.S. society are not confined to those grainy images Fox News loves to run with the inflammatory “Battle at the Border” logo it routinely plasters on stories about immigration.

Migration is what modern-day humans, and our ancestors before that, have been doing for 100,000 years, since the days we left the African continent, and, by some estimates, first traversed the Western Hemisphere 15,000 years ago or more.

Migration is as natural a human act as eating and breathing. The soldiers of invading armies aside, immigrants tend to leave their homelands not as an act of aggression, but driven by basic needs – finding food or escaping danger.

The 17th Century colonizers of the Americas were a mash-up of conquerors and run-of-the-mill migrants. Some came escaping oppression. Others came in search of silver, gold or greener pastures, with little or no regard for the fact that those pastures were already populated by hundreds of Native American tribes. A great many others arrived wearing their repressive proclivities on their sleeves, or in sheaths and holsters, some with slaves in tow.

Fast forward to modern America, and immigration is as much a real and necessary part of our daily lives as ever, no matter how many of us try to pretend otherwise. Virtually everything created, manufactured or grown in our economy is touched by immigrants.

I meet immigrants every day. I was born in Chicago, but my father was an immigrant. I have relatives scattered across the nation who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. As a journalist, I’ve been reporting on immigrants for the past 30-plus years, and, so, I’ve learned first-hand that immigration is not a synonym for invasion or criminality.

Rarely have I ever felt threatened by an immigrant. Instead of perceiving them as a threat, I almost invariably find immigrants inspiring, because it isn’t easy to have to decide to leave their homes behind, no matter if that home is on our border or in some far-flung region of the world.

Psychologists will tell you that moving to a new home, even if it’s just across town, is one of the most stressful things we do in our lives. Now imagine you’ve decided to move to a new country where you don’t speak the language, don’t have a job and don’t have any family or friends. Oh, and you’ve arrived with nothing more than what you were literally able to carry on your back.

That takes courage.

What’s even more impressive is that people do it every minute of every day, even in the face of enormous and harrowing obstacles, like walls, armed guards, drones, human traffickers, corrupt police and knowing they may not see their loved ones for months or years, if ever again.

Human migration is a superhuman act, no matter if some among us regard immigrants, especially dark-skinned undocumented immigrants, as subhuman.

I often say that, if I owned a company and I met someone who had walked nearly 3,000 miles from Honduras to Phoenix, that I would hire that person in a heartbeat. Not because I felt sorry for them, but because of the resilience, determination and courage it takes to make that difficult journey.

That’s why most employers in this country hire immigrants, undocumented or not. And immigrants keep coming because they know they’ll get hired. It’s not because, as our president insists, that they’re intent on destroying America.

On the contrary, to paraphrase Hamilton, immigrants get the job done. The vast and overwhelming majority of immigrants come because they want to work, support their families, and live their lives in peace. What is more American than that? What is more human than that?

The faces of immigrants are everywhere. I saw one the other day talking to Prof. Emir Estrada, who migrated to the U.S. from Mexico and is now teaching a humanities class at ASU called Facing Immigration. I saw one in the face of Estrada’s students, Megan Medrano and Giovanna Arenas, whose fathers came from Mexico. I saw one when I met Ramiro Gomez, a visual artist from Los Angeles who paints images of immigrant laborers and whose parents are immigrant laborers.

I see it when I look in the mirror every morning in the face of a man who tries to tell the stories of immigrants because, often times, they cannot tell those stories themselves.

The faces of immigrants are everywhere, and no wall will ever change that.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

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