We Are All Immigrants
Sunday, July 1, 2018
I am a worried Venezuelan and American. I am writing this note while preparing to spend the Fourth of July at a traditional barbecue with friends and family. This is the day we celebrate as Independence Day. The fireworks I hope to hear on this important day are a chorus of voices screaming how unacceptable, how inhumane, how shameful what my new country is doing with immigrants is.
When did we become so intolerant of human beings coming to this country in desperation, often escaping terrible situations? Aren’t most of us descendants of people who had come to America escaping tragedy or seeking more opportunity? High levels of social tolerance and community integration made this country great. We should never tolerate the mistreatment of desperate people trying to fulfill basic needs. Zero tolerance should apply for individuals or institutions taking a child — regardless of origin or circumstance — away from parents for even an instant. This is not a confident America demonstrating its finest capacities and living up to its quintessential motto as the land of opportunity.
Coincidentally, July 5 is Independence Day in Venezuela, my country of origin. I recall my pride in growing up as Venezuelan when there was an open-door policy supporting many migrants from countries experiencing difficulties. The Spanish came after their Civil War and the years of Franco’s regime. The Italians came during and after War World II; Argentinians arrived during the Dirty War; Chileans joined our society during the Pinochet dictatorship. Immigrants brought their skills, worked hard, built businesses — they played essential roles in developing a more prosperous country. Now, Venezuelans, like many citizens of the world, are desperate to find new societies to invite us to join them.
I mourn for the failed state Venezuela has become. Hyperinflation and the extreme scarcity of food and medicine are well known. Everyday chaos and violence means ordinary citizens are subjected to the highest rates of homicide in the world. Caracas, the capital city, is currently ranked as the most violent city in Latin America. These conditions have driven hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans of diverse socio-economic strata to seek opportunities in other places. Desperate citizens are crossing the borders arriving in Brazil or Colombia. If their small boats don’t sink first, they land on an island in the Caribbean, like Trinidad or Curacao. These modern Venezuelan stories — even my own story — are like the stories of migrants from many, many parts of the world.
Instead of celebrating these two days as moments in history when each country became a nation governed by its own people, I worry we are losing our willingness to help those who are escaping fear, chaos, uncertainty and a violent social context. Migrants love their home country; I love Venezuela. But I left 11 years ago because, like the others who are arriving at our borders, I aspired to a better life. For our own sake, we should be helping the migrants succeed, not separating them from their children.
Theprevious post is from Kroc School Dean Patricia Márquez. To read more messages from the Dean, subscribe to the Kroc School Monthly Newsletter here.