Every single time I go to a ” First World” country the immigration debate rears it’s ugly head. It comes the strongest when the economy is bad and people need to find blame. As a gypsy friend said to me in October, when I told her I felt that the Gypsy parents were very cautious ” It’s not a good time for us right now. We are afraid we are going to be kicked out at any time because when things get bad you always need a scapegoat”.
The very word ” foreigner” conveys a sense of ” otherness” of a sense that they are not ” Ours” . It feels like an invader, something that people have no control over and will gobble up culture, propriety, time and identity. They are to blame for crime, for bad behavior , for everything evil that you can imagine.
It starts with the first generation. They are the ones who get the brunt of the prejudice. My grandmother told me that when she was young in Boston, she would get thrown rocks and yelled ” guinea”. Somehow, if you are white enough, or you integrate yourself enough into the society, you can luckily become part of ” Us”. It’s is no small wonder that by the third generation they are the ones throwing the rocks at t he new ” others”. Sometimes you do not need to be reminded that at one point you were ” them” and not ” us”.
Immigration has happened since the dawn of time. Yet we are still resistant to it. We fear our loss of culture, of identity, of something else. It’s sort of funny in a way. Here I am in Spain, and I am just as much a foreigner as any other Latino out there. But because I have white skin I am not a threat to anyone. When I explain my mother is scottish people go ” oh ok” like somehow I am now part of the Us Ethos. But technically, I might be taking away jobs from a good hardworking spaniard. Technically, I can vie for far better jobs. But why are the people who go for menial jobs and barely making a living are discriminated against? Most of them are doing jobs that others never would even think of doing.
A lot of this has to do with the human inherent belief that everything we think is good and bad, black and white. We believe that what our culture does is necessarily the right way of doing things. Basic things like ” clean”, ” loud” , ” polite” can be entirely different things in different cultures. Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that some things we do culturally are done through generations. He did a talk awhile back which I transcribed ( I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting this)
I am going to give an example of an airplane crash. How many of you are going to fly this month? Oh I am sorry this might make you nervous. What will make you nervous is how common it actually is.
I am going to give you an example of an airplane crash for a Colombian flight to New York City. In the flight there was dense fog, to avoid the fog they circled around and above to wait for landing as there is a waiting line and planes are delayed.
The two Colombian pilots realized that they were running out of fuel and they asked the airflight control “ We are running out of fuel” they missed the landing and one engine blew out. And then the second one did as well. They crashed and 76 people died.
What went wrong here? The inspectors came in to check the crashed plane but found , when it usually takes weeks, the problem. It was not the blown engine. It was not the lack of fuel and it was not the weather. It was not the ability of the pilots either.
The greatest disasters of the day is not one catastrophic event but a series of small, almost insignificant changes or mistakes that lead to a huge catastrophe. One mistake leads to another, and when they are not rectified it causes these things. For example, twenty years ago there was a factory explosion. The reason was surprisingly banal. The gauge in the barometer was clogged. The backup to the barometer had been covered by a sign and so people coiuld not tell it was clogged. The backup to the backup was not working . No one thought to check each little mishap and this is what went wrong. We were all responsible for each small thing.
Sometimes, a lot of our fears come from not allowing us to understand a concept of Otherness. There is no Us and Them. There is however a unique set of human experiences in the world. I have had the privilege of having Haitian , Nigerian, Native American, Indigenous Ecuadorian, Scottish, Cameroonian, trinidadian, American,Spanish friends and they all react or think differently. Luckily my chameleonlike TCk Ness Makes it easier to get to know people. I am a not so foreign immigrant. I have a sense that I can blend in and stand out at any time