Friday, June 24, 2011

Who Are We, Really?

In many ways, Jose Antonio Vargas' story is that of everyone who lives in the United States:

Except, through no fault of his own, he is an undocumented alien living in America. Brought here as a young man, he grew up here. He is a success here, and by just about any other criteria would be an American. Yet, he can't leave the country for fear of not being allowed to return. Going back to the place he was born would put him somewhere that, to him, would be a foreign land.

Every American, every last one of us, is descended from people who were from somewhere else. That's true of descendants of the Leni Lenape, who were in Pennsylvania when the first European settlers arrived, as it was of those Quaker and Dutch settlers, and the Hessian mercenaries who settled there after they served the British cause in the Revolutionary War. It is true of the Navajo, and of the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers who came after them. It's true of the Chinese and Irish laborers who built the transcontinental railroad as it was of their white American bosses.

The first people who came to North America came here long after Europe, Asia, and even some of the Pacific Islands had been settled. We all came from somewhere else. We all came here, or our ancestors did, because this seemed like a better place to be than where we were, and we made this strange place our home.

Given that, it's hard to understand how anyone could talk about people like Vargas the way that undocumented workers are talked about in America - as though they were some kind of parasite or anomaly. The fact is, they just made the same journey we or our forebears did. They're as American as we are. They just got here a little later.

(h/t Mary at The Left Coaster.)

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