Lessons to be learned from immigrant’s plight
December 1, 2006
Blips on the radar, that’s the way life sometimes comes at us, and my radar was busy this week – lots of blips, not a lot of definition or comprehension of what the blips signified.Listening to the local radio news one morning, I was struck by a story about a family of illegal immigrants with at least one kid in the local schools, a mom who works hard and makes better money than she did back home in Mexico, and no mention of a dad anywhere in the story.The radio station, KAJX FM in Aspen, has been following the trials and tribulations of the student, a young lady they’re calling “Maria” (at least I think that was the pseudonym they used), although the family’s real identities are not revealed for obvious reasons having to do with federal immigration police, deportations and the like.In this story it was revealed that the mom is planning to take the family back to Mexico, much to the dismay of Maria, who likes it here. But it was the reason for the mom’s disaffection with our bountiful society that gripped me – she thinks life here is too hectic, too frenzied, and doesn’t allow enough time for simple enjoyment, quiet enjoyment of the good things life offers.Mama is right, of course. Our lives are dominated by our work, our sense of urgency and inadequacy, our fears that we are somehow falling behind something, that we’re not prepared for what tomorrow might bring.It seems to be something inextricably woven into our socioeconomic framework, perhaps traceable back to our Puritan heritage. We have inherited a deep-seated belief that told our forebears that life is meant to be a trial and a burden to be borne until we pass on to something easier, more fulfilling. Our real average income is falling in close paradoxical parallel to the widening gap between rich and poor, a fact that is well-known but not understood in either its causes or its implications.It is clearly tied, though, to our current capitalistic environment, the lust for material gain and the acquisition of the trappings of wealth, that often is pursued at the expense of our peace of mind. And as the numbers of the poor grow faster than the numbers of the wealthy, corresponding to a shrinking of the middle class, the picture gets bleaker, not brighter.Whether things are truly better in Mexico is, naturally, up for debate, and Mama might well regret her decision when she gets home. The struggle between the haves and the have-nots is in full cry there, as exemplified by the battle between political parties and their standard-bearers, Andres Manuel Loopes Obrador and Felipe Calderon. International observers have reported that Mexico is a place where the gulf between the wealthy and the poor is far greater than in any nation on Earth. And recently, during the presidency of Vicente Fox, the gulf has widened sufficiently to add power and depth to the northward flight of the disenfranchised and the downtrodden.Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we see the results of that trend as well as anywhere else. The arrival of Mama and Maria is the proof. It’s not easy to uproot a family and move them to a foreign land, where language barriers, racial discrimination and social disapproval only add to the difficulties faced by the growing multitudes who are here through sheer determination and lacking the legalistic niceties.Maria sees more opportunity here than at home, and she undoubtedly has ample evidence to draw on to support her perceptions. In the obliviousness of youth, though, she either doesn’t recognize or is willfully ignoring the drawbacks to life here that her mother sees clearly and fears powerfully.It’s a story that can be multiplied endlessly here in our valley and across the country, as illegal immigrants struggle with the realities of their adopted neighborhoods. And it’s not a pretty story, regardless of how it turns out here or elsewhere.This is not just happening in the U.S. of A., of course. In France, a conservative government is embroiled in a controversial plan to sell off the national holdings in the country’s gas and oil industry. A court has authorized the plan, but has slowed the transition down to the point where it is likely to become a debating point in upcoming elections, with characteristically explosive results. France is dealing with some of the unavoidable outcomes of what is called “globalization,” but more accurately described as the “Americanization” of international commerce. There, like here, the bottom line is increasingly more important than the quality of people’s lives.And like a Gordian knot, the entire situation is complicated by a vast immigration flow from poorer countries, in the form of darker-skinned but highly motivated refugees from turmoil. Racism is not just an American problem, as the growing French conflict shows.Globally speaking, this set of issues and problems is one that will be plaguing us through the years, along with a vast array of other difficulties that seem equally intractable, and that will undoubtedly keep humanity hopping mad and sadly confused for some time.And so it goes for Mama, Maria and all of us.