A border crisis which reaches beyond the border

By John R. Roberts

When I was growing up my family, like any good Christians, would frequent our local Mexican restaurant almost every Sunday after church. I have still yet to find that commandment in Holy Scripture, but every other family also did it so I’m sure it is part of the protestant sacraments. We would go to the Hispanic eatery, get the messiest and most queso covered dish they could conjure up in the kitchen. It was always so satisfying. But among the tortilla chips, salsa, and American inspired Mexican dishes (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that concept myself) there was always some sort of racial slur blurted out from one of the God fearing white patrons of the place. Whether it was a simple comment regarding how the restaurant should use English words to describe their dishes or as extreme as making statements about how the workers were part of a larger problem of Hispanics ruining the US economy, the statements always were striking to me even as a young boy.

I was raised in a small rural town in the foothills of Tennessee, a place where the population was 92% white.[1] People of color where few and far between, which as expected created a variety of issues both socially and personally. I distinctly remember degrading discussions between native born individuals and Hispanic immigrants which included such comments as “Comprendo me?” or “You should learn English.” Sadly, never experiencing exposure to individuals of Hispanic heritage I followed suit in generalizing all dark skinned persons as a Mexican who were not legal American citizens. It wasn’t until I actually befriended a Latino person and heard his story that the true issues revolving around immigration became real for me.

In 2011, I met a fellow minister called by God who just happened to be Hispanic. I was invited to New Year’s Eve party at a Hispanic ministry which met in his house instead of a church, which was very intimidating since my Spanish is horrible. Despite my lack of cultural diversity I agreed to go and what ensued was life altering. Instead of just generally associating my naïve understanding to the issues of Mexican immigration, I began to connect real people and human suffering to the issue. I heard stories of real individuals who had gone through unbelievable lengths in hopes to create a better life for themselves and more importantly their families. Some had to leave their families behind in order to obtain a job here in the states, most had to take unwanted jobs with unlivable wages, and all had made the almost 1500 mile trek from the dangerous deserts of the border to Tennessee. I heard endless stories of hardships that night, and I realized that everyone in that room was a much harder worker than myself, the entitled white American. My heart was broken, and my pride was shattered. How was it that these stereotypes I had grown up with became the general consensus and why did I just blindly believe them without even knowing anyone of Hispanic heritage?

From our very beginnings as a nation, we have held a false belief that those people of the west were inferior to ourselves.[2] In fact, the land we call Texas and California mostly was inhabited first by people of Hispanic descent. What is considered by most as perhaps the most “American” part of our country in fact was first the territory of the Mexican people; however, due to political and economic reasons we now have developed a sense of unwelcomeness to people not of Anglo-Saxon background. The border has not always been an established thing, it was only after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that over 55% on the land originally owned by the Mexican people was claimed by the US.[3] Some Hispanic citizens of the US have live on this land for over hundreds of years, more than some white families, yet they still experience a large amount of prejudice and oppression. If longevity and seniority do not make people American, then what does? In our blind acceptance of stereotypes towards the Hispanic people, America has demonized any pride for someone to be Mexican.

                       A striking picture depicting the difference across the border.

Although the US-Mexican border was states away from the Tennessee land I call home, the crisis occurring there still has affected us. The reality of the immigration issue is that everyone in the entire US is feeling the effects of the oppression of an entire people group. We are so quick to deem immigration as a potential threat to the American way or a drain on our economy. My question is where did we get our facts to back up these claims? Immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes which has direct positive impacts to our economy.[4] Also, isn’t the American dream all about working hard to create a better life for yourself? In my experience that is exactly what the people caught up in the harsh realities of the border crisis are trying to do. Before we continue to blindly support these negative claims revolving around Mexican immigrants, perhaps we need to actually engage people from the culture itself. Before we begin to take a stance on immigration, either side, there is a need to ask ourselves, “When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with Mexican immigrant?” When was the last time you asked a Hispanic person their life story? When was the last time you put a human face to the US-Mexican Border crisis? The truth of the matter is, this issue is not just about the politics or the economy. These problems are about people, living breathing people, and I believe that once we realize that we can truly begin to try and fix the issue.

[1] “Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin: 2010 More Information 2010 Census Summary File 1.” United States Census Bureau: American FactFinder. 2010.http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF.

[2] Pike, Fredrick B. The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1992. 8.

[3] Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo [Exchange copy], February 2, 1848; Perfected Treaties, 1778-1945; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government, 1778-1992; National Archives.

[4] Anchondo, Leo. “Top 10 Myths About Immigration.” Top 10 Myths About Immigration. 2010.http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/high-school/top-10-myths-about-immigration.

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