The Face of America

COMMENTS at end of this post.  Also, reference is made to a recent  iconic photograph, which was adapted for the cover of the current Time magazine, here.

The Volleyball Court at Carver Lake, June 20, 2018

Tuesday I was doing my usual walk, whose midpoint is the beach area of Carver Lake in Woodbury, part of an often bustling city park, family reunions, playground for kids and the like.  My time of day, there, is usually earlier in the morning, and so it was, Tuesday.

We’ve had an abundance of rain, lately, and Tuesday the left side of the volleyball court looked like a small lake, with standing water.

I didn’t know this as I was coming down the hill.  An older man, approaching from the other direction gestured in the direction of the court.  I learned why when I neared the bottom of the hill.  At the new  impromptu “lake” of the volleyball court were four young deer.  Three of them were just hanging out, but the 4th one seemed to be having the time of its life, cavorting in the shallow water just like some little kid who has been magnetically attracted to a mud puddle.

That youthful deer was being like any little kid…having a lot of fun.

I thought of another photo from a couple of days earlier, one that most folks have now seen: that little person being separated from Mom in McAllen TX.   Quite possibly that photo is an upcoming Pulitzer Prize winner, but it is a photo of a family tragedy, all of us included in the tragedy.

“Tough love” inflicted on families with children.  Is this the new face of America?   Or are we comfortable with this attitude over our history as a country?

There is a great plenty of “news” out about the cruel issue of exclusion of people seeking refuge in our country.  I’ll let my word, “cruel”, suffice for my opinion on the matter.

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The rest of my words in this post will focus on two items, which possibly may assist in the converation.

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Excepting Native Americans, we are all children of recent immigrants to this piece of ground called the United States.  Someone preceded us, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.  It wasn’t a first class arrival for them, but they arrived on our shore,  after 1886, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty, itself a symbol of friendship from France to the Unites States.

June, 1972. Joni and Tom Bernard at the Statue of Liberty.

Since 1980 I’ve been family historian for my own families of origin, and in that time you learn a lot about ‘back stories’.  To begin, I’m virtually 100% “white man”, a DNA mix of French, German, English, Irish, Iberian peninsula, likely Portugese.  The French-Canadian side has been in N. America for 400 years now.  The German side came between the 1840s and early 1870s, long before Ellis Island.

I am in the privileged class.

In my family tree, the first German family I know migrated here in 1844, and included two children born in Germany, ages 5 and 2.  A later German family came right after the Civil War.  One daughter died at sea, so the stories go.

The French-Canadian side, Quebec from the early 1600s, first appeared in the U.S. sometime around 1850, arriving in Minnesota with 7 children ages 18 to 3.  My great-grandmother was 5.  It must have been a difficult journey.  They came years before there was railroad connection to this area, and their trip from eastern Canada to here must have been a real adventure.   No time for a diary, for certain.

All our ancestors arrived here, similarly.  I wonder what they would think of our brand of “welcoming” these days.  Yes, they endured discrimination – we have always been harsh to newcomers, it seems, unless they fit our preferences and needs.  But they came, to build this nation.  We didn’t build this nation, they did.

Now, to the new generation looking for a better life on our shores, we’re saying “stay home.  This is OUR country, not yours”.

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

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Some months ago I attended a most interesting lecture about phases of immigration to our America.  With apologies to the presentor that day, here is my very inadequate summary of what I heard; errors are inadvertent and mine.

1790-1880 the U.S. had open borders for free white persons who could naturalize after two years.  Of course, at the time person meant men.  This was the Naturalization Act of 1790.  Indians were the conquered; Africans, slaves.

1882-1952 came more harder edge times.  The Chinese Exclusion Act.  Exclusion of convicts, lunatics, idiots or public charges, anarchists, previously deported and illiterates….

1924 came the National Origin Quotas.  About this time a decision was made to make American Indians citizens of their own country.  Of course, by now, they were basically kept on “reservations”.

1965 there came legislation “to keep white dominance” (my note) in immigration policy.

1980, the Refugee Act created policies to help certain groups.  Best I can recall, these were not “goodness of our hearts” refugees; rather people who had been on “our” side in places like Laos and Vietnam.

From 1986 forward, according to the speaker, came the current attitude of “criminalizing of migration”.

Again, a caveat: these are rough notes which I decided to keep.  There are lots of blanks to be filled in.  My notes don’t touch the Japanese being interned, or German U.S. citizens being mistrusted at the time of WWI and II.  Or the Jews finding themselves less than welcome in this country during the time leading up to World War II.  And on it goes.

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The “Face of America” these days?

We are basically a land filled with very good, decent and hospitable people: I see this every day of every week, and I get around.  We are not the hard-edged Trump fringe, fearful and hateful, the ones who currently have an edge.

Changing course takes lots of individual actions, one person at a time, far beyond reading the words on this piece of paper, or any number of others.

Get on the court, in action for decency in this still great country of ours.

Give some thought to two of my favorite quotations: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,
indeed it is the only thing that ever has
.”  (Margaret Mead); “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” (Gandhi)

POSTNOTE: I noted with interest and concern the announcement yesterday that the United States is withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council: “the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution.” (Associated Press).  There are plenty of newspaper references about this today, here, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

This withdrawal, and the others, as from the Climate Accords, Iran, etc., represent weakness not strength: a “my way or the highway” approach to “deals”.  My Dad was fond of saying, “a quitter never wins; a winner never quits”.  I think there’s a lot of truth there.

It is sadly ironic that this year, December 10, is the 70th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, passed unanimously (eight abstentions) by the UN with Eleanor Roosevelt and the United States in a leadership role.

I have always been proud of my country, the United States of America.  In our efforts to continue dominance of the world, we are defeating ourselves.

Rather than becoming stronger under the Trump and right wing ideological conservatives, the U.S. is becoming weaker and the results will show in the long term.

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A good summary of current events: “The Tough Guy Blinks Momentarily”

Another, here: “The Killer Elite“.

Most interesting article about immigrant genealogy here

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COMMENTS:

from Jeff:  I  think the solid right wing 25%  of the population could care less about these kids being separated, they are the other.

Then there is another 15-18% that support Trump and GOP policies … many of these were not happy with this policy as they have a moral empathy that can extend at least in the case of innocent children to the others sometimes.

I question if that 25% are good decent folk.   How can they be if they support racism, policies like this and get excited over a lying demagogue.   They might bring you a hot dish when your spouse is ill , they might show up at a family funeral and pay their respects… but I honestly believe they are devoid of extended moral values.

The real problem for the Trumpistas is that by and large they are older and white… a fading demographic.

So stopping immigration is almost required for their survival.  I know there are fringe elements that are younger.

But the true base is older .. .i.e. Fox News audience.

My wife’s uncle , a bond trader and financial advisor always seemed like a normal reasonable guy,  but he is an unrepentant Trump supporter.   I really wonder how to deal with him in 2 weeks when I visit Chicago for their family reunion.  Avoid the subject I guess… I just don’t understand how an intelligent rational person could fall for this nonsense.

[Paul] Krugman article today maybe answers it… the devils bargain for the conservative plutocratic class… kowtow to racism and lying and misogyny if it captures political power so you can pass tax cuts, deregulations, etc.

But toddlers in cages?

from Molly:  Thanks, Dick, for the comments and the link to Just Above Sunset… wow, quite the incisive article!

from Florence: German Americans were also interned in concentration camps during WW II, just because they were suspected of possibly being disloyal to the US. There was a “camp” in Cass Lake, MN. The internees were generally conscripted to work for farmers and other food producers. The Minnesota Historical Society has very good handle on this “consequence” of a WW.  Thanks for the insights!

from JP:   Well done!!!

From a long-time and valued friend:  Dick, How many of your ancestors came illegally?  I and most people support legal immigration I think.  At the college, I worked with student visas, etc. Laws were passed but not enforced.  When the by the book guy comes along and enforces the laws it is then his laws and policies. Bogus I would say. The Kennedy area [era?] passed the current laws including separation but have not been enforced [it would be helpful to see the evidence]. The reason is they should never have been pas[sed]. Trump should not have tried to enforce these laws but got them changed. Now by his executive order the separation will not take place any longer. It truly is crazy times we are living in.  The old saying “Dammed if you do, Dammed if you don’t” seems to prevail.

Response to my friend:  Below the Statue of Liberty photo I self-identify myself as a “virtually 100% “white man” ”  Thus, of course, my ancestors came legally, because they were “white men”.

As for the law, it has always been and still is primarily made by “white men”, but that trend is shifting too, though not quite enough, yet.  Here’s the demographics of the current Congress in Washington.

What I have noted over the past few years in particular (post 9-11-01 to be specific) is that the Congress, whose responsibility it is to pass and enforce legislation, has abrogated its authority as a way to avoid (pass on) its responsibility to someone else, the President, the “bureaucrats”, whomever…never themselves.  Such laws are difficult to negotiate, so to avoid this, there is simply a refusal to negotiate, and you see what is now close to happening again…the Republican “Conference” passes something without any involvement by the minority (Democrats), and then blames the Democrats.  It is dishonest, but for the partisan faithful, it works.  Of course, if it is “bad”, the Democrats get blamed whether or not they were even partially responsible.  There is no need to talk about “good” here – Trump is leveraging an anti-immigrant wave to which, thankfully, many citizens are now responding.

Re the Law, the greatest oxymoron I know is the declaration from any lawyer that a particular Law is “clear”.  If that was true, there wouldn’t be need for lawyers, who by and large are the ones who make and interpret the laws before other lawyers, called Judges.  “Legal” is always an “opinion”.  Having said that, I identify most closely with the mantra that the “force of law is preferable to the law of force”.  Having said that, I’m a reasonable person.  Every single one of my posts gives my philosophy.

Of course, the demographic, “white men” is not so clear, either.  If the election allowed only “old white men” to vote, my side would probably lose, though not my much.  There are millions upon millions of us who are in philosophic agreement with me.  Here’s some pertinent research from a long-time respected and credible source.  It’s 2014 data, but probably quite current.  I tried to make my point about the coming change in an earlier post, here.  Go to the link entitled “World Law Day 2018” and read pages 25 and 26 (I’m suggesting that this entire post is worth reading).

Bob Dylan’s timeless song lyric is worth noting, “the time’s they are a’changing”.

I will work hard to temper the authoritarian streak of our current political regime to build a better future for everyone.

1 reply
  1. Lydia Howell
    Lydia Howell says:

    Beautiful piece, Dick. Fun to see picture of your kids with Lady Liberty in 1972.
    Thank you for the historical summary of U.S> immigration laws. However, I think you got 1965 WRONG: immigration “opened up” MORE to places like Africa and Latin America—or so I thought.

    Anyway, I think this is one of your BEST essays entwining your family’s history with issues of our day. Sad to say I do AGREE with Jeff’s comment above: that hardcore rightwing 25% are NOT “good & decent people” given their racism, xenophobia, close-mindedness and cruel-heartedness flowing from those world-views.
    At Trump’s rally in Duluth on June 20th, it was really upsetting to see such people cheering for Trump like Germans worshipping their Great Leader. They really are like people in a CULT swallowing every lie as if it were the Gospel. While their legitimate concerns about jobs/economic development in rural and small towns should certainly be addressed—so must their bigotry. They are nothing new in America—such bigotry is woven through our countr’s foundation–but, at 242 years old, it’s overdue to challenge it without excuse-making.
    That so many people across the political spectrum have drawn the line at separating immigrant parents from their children is a start. Maybe, we’ve hit the Trumpian “bottom” and there will be far more REAL resistance to the madness we find ourselves in. I think our democracy—and if one is of a religious belief—our souls, depend on it.

    Reply

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