Biden’s Wall

       This article was conceived before all hell broke loose around Gaza, the Palestinian enclave to the south of Israel a few days ago. The night before I sat down here to start the draft, I read 700 Israeli’s had been killed and 2000 wounded, with about 300 or so Palestinian civilians also killed in collateral attacks in the Gaza strip in an effort to weed out Hamas members. Electricity and water were cut off as well. But instead of being tempted to feel this is irrelevant, I think it is even more so in light of ongoing current events.
       As you read my first paragraph and crossed over the words .. ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Israel’, you feel a strong tug in a particular direction based on many things, many of which you have no control over. Where you were born, your upbringing, your religious views .. We like to think that an informed democracy makes decisions above these things, but just look at a political map in past national elections in the United States and you can see how easy it is to determine how someone will probably vote in this upcoming national election, regardless of who’s running.
      When it comes to borders we see a lot of high fences, sometimes electrified fences. We see watch towers and machine gun posts. We see walls. One of the most ridiculous walls I’ve ever seen was a birds-eye view of the West Bank. You will see this myriad of high walls protecting Jewish settlements expanded onto land claimed to belong to Palestinians and Zionist Jews alike. It looks like a maze, but its just the results of a legacy inherited by centuries old beliefs that looks a lot like European expansionist beliefs in colonial eras before.
       But let’s move away for a moment from the conflict that holds our momentary gaze. Let’s go down to the southern border of the United States for a moment. A never ceasing stream of people are trying to enter the United States of America. In recent years it has become an acute problem. The numbers have sky rocketed. The apples don’t fall far from the tree in our case as a family. My wife would like to enter America and she has a right to a non-quota visa and a green card because she’s my spouse. My daughter as well as soon as she’s adopted. One of my favorite young people I got to know leading a group of mostly English teachers in S. Korea was born in the US. The rest of her family crossed illegally.
       Many people are fleeing dangerous situations. Many Russians and Ukrainians have spent their remaining resources to fly to Mexico in hopes of being let in. Most of the folks though come from North and South America. Many of them come from politically corrupt or dangerous places like Haiti, Venezuela and El Salvador. What was surprising to me to see was the numbers from places like Ecuador and Brazil. No longer is it just Mexicans trying to get in, but a myriad of people from all over the place.
       Although, I found it humorous that quietly the Biden administration is adding pieces to Trumps unfinished business of putting up a wall, I’m not writing this piece to suggest the wall is a good idea or not, or that filling New York hotels with immigrants is a good idea or not. I’m not making a case for or against on a political level.
       One thing that I am humored by though, is when Republican governors bus or fly immigrants to the neighborhoods of the ivory tower left’s neighborhoods in Martha Vineyard or some cushy location south of LA. Because I do overlap a bit with their opinion on how aloof the left is and how blind they are to their own virtual signaling. It’s hard to imagine how their ivory tower solutions can actually work in the real world. It makes me think that many of them don’t live in it. In short, we have people who are unwilling to make room for them at a cost to their own lifestyle or wellbeing on both the left and the right. The irony is that often times, the most vocal can be people from their own ethnic background who see newcomers as a threat to their material achievements, failing to see a need to help them, just as they needed when their parents entered the country. I hear, “these new immigrants aren’t like the old ones” .. etc. And then, of course we have the political right, that more and more sees these people as dangerous and a threat based on ethnicity and color. I feel both polarities are suffering from the same sickness with different symptoms.
       I’m writing a book, ‘Building Bridges: Can We Love & Relate in a Polarized World?’ In my book, I talk about a moment captured during Barak Obama’s presidency where he was interrupted by pro-immigration chants of “stop deportation”, and signaled to security to not apprehend them for disrupting his speech. Abandoning his prepared speech, He went on to suggest that we are a country of laws and that only if we work together can we get things done. I tear up every time .. with the words .. “no, they can stay .. I love the spirit of these young people .. they are concerned about the welfare of their families .. ”  (This was during the debate over ‘dreamers’) and I saw it over a dozen times because it was an assigned video in a monthly intensive English class I was conducting with Korean executives at Hyundai Motor Corp.
       Also, in my book, I share a story about how much I hated the United States for kicking me out of the military for no apparent reason. It took teaching English language students from the Far East about America for the wounds to heal, because I realized that America is great and can be greater still .. because of immigrants. In a strange way, most of us do not belong in America. We evicted indigenous people off their lands because they didn’t have ‘ownership’ contracts or surveyors, or the right religion. We brought slaves over in an absolutely heinous era of chattel slavery. They had absolutely no choice in the matter and they were eventually set free after the bloodies conflict Americans have ever witnessed, with no ‘ownership’ contracts whatsoever, forced to live out a fledgling existence. Demographically, they still have a steeper climb in society as a result, despite the rich additions to American culture they have uniquely contributed to.
       But here we are now. Whether it’s gentrification or building walls, telling people to get out to protect our rights, our lands, our jobs, our lives. We don’t want to have to contend with them. And even if we do welcome them, we can sanitize ourselves and keep them at arms length with tax paying dollars (the left), and can go on living in our white bread world.
       In the Philippines, this happened exactly the same way. Indigenous people didn’t own land per say. They didn’t have a sophisticated set of guidelines to determine who owned what. It was very communal and tribal. When the Spanish arrived, they claimed the land, based on a religious premise started around around the time of Christopher Columbus, called the Doctrine of Discovery, ensuring that Christianization equaled obtaining the land and what was on it and subjugating the people that lived there. We all recognize that this was wrong. Today we celebrate Christopher Columbus and the Italians, ignoring the historical travesty to placate a culture group. Some prefer to call it Indigenous Heritage day. I’m Irish. We don’t get a public holiday like the Italians do. The British evicted us off our lands years ago, and in genocidal fashion left us starving during the potato famine .. crops and livestock grown other than potatoes belonged to the British and thus could not be used to stop the starvation of 2 million people. The Irish then desperately looked for new homes as far as Australia and South Africa. My ancestors landed in America.
       Borders. Land rights .. civilization. Yes. These have become the rules of the road. Accepted standards among nations. They are definitely needed and should be enforced in the world of complex institutions and norms we have today in a global world. Yet, we fight. Ukraine and Russia fight. Palestine and Israel fight. China and the West jockey for position over  the influence of the Western Pacific on economic and military terms.
       Whether you are on the far left, looking at immigrants from afar like cute kittens on Twitter, or on the right looking at them as potential thieves and rapists, etc .. I suggest you look at them very differently.
       I often can’t fathom how we can spend the enormous resources that we have half way around the world, yet leave Puerto Rico without electricity for 6 months after a hurricane. Haiti is a stones throw away by power projection standards, but the only resources we have expended for them are putting them on planes and sending them back to a country shattered and run by REAL thugs and criminals. These are our neighbors. America, a nominally Christian nation patronizes the words of Jesus to love our neighbor. He further explains that if we fail to do that, we can’t possibly claim to love God or have a place in God’s kingdom.
       I think we lack an imagination for love. We have a lot of pragmatic ideas about “dealing” with nationless people or refugees, or just simply people wanting a better life and determined to get it .. like the love of my life, my wife. Why calls to love?? Do you have to invite illegals into your home in order for that to happen? You don’t. You don’t even have to be ok with ‘illegal’ anything to love. I, for one, send money to a trusted organization to help fund the education of 4 little girls. 3 of them come from some of the poorest and most dangerous countries on earth. El Salvador, Haiti, and Nepal. I support schools financially in Lebanon and the Philippines. That requires a tiny fraction of my time to write them letters and an inconsequential amount of money as well. Our investment pays dividends to future of those living in condition much worse than us. At best it paves the way for future leaders in those countries.
       But love is more than just being generous with our time and money. We have something much more to give to those within arms length of each other. Relationship. I understand the anonymity requirements between my family and these 4 precious girls. It protects them from predators or disrupting the equity of their program, but it hurts that I can’t meet their parents, or give them a reassuring hug. I’d love it if my daughter could meet them some day. The relationship part in us, is soooo important. The “bridge” part of the title of my book is that overlap. The admittance that we are human and can empathize and relate with others around us–Finding common ground to which we can stand together, not fight over.
       And what of those people that vehemently look at you as the enemy. In my opinion, the poor, in this case, most of these immigrants on the southern border are just caught in between two well established sides. The mountain of comments and rhetoric spilled out digitally on social media platforms is enormous but only represents an increment of spared resources, time and electricity to have your say. Well, the rhetoric and mountains of comments and energy we put toward our point of view is worthless. It’s worthless. It probably finds us friends, but these friends can be akin to drinking buddies, drinking from the same poisonous cup. You aren’t spurring each other on to great things .. just helping each other build higher and higher walls preventing two things. One, you fail to love your neighbor and achieve social wealth that I detail in my book. And also, you keep the cycle of violence going directly or indirectly with your inaction that prevents the synergy required to push humanity forward to solve very complex problems.
Abraham Lincoln said this,
       “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause.”
       Indeed. Friendship .. or kindness at the very least is either a drop of honey that catches his heart, as Lincoln says, or a raging fire within like ‘burning hot coals’ that an ancient proverb suggests. Both touching the heart. Our best arguments, mic drops, hot takes on Twitter .. don’t do a damn thing to push the needle in the right direction.
       I don’t care much about the wall on the southern border. The Economist suggests it is to placate constituents in districts near the border to win votes and won’t have much of an impact on the current crisis. What I care about is the borders of your heart. I don’t care what color your skin is, or whether you are an ivory tower professor at an Ivy League school, an immigrant separated from your family and flown back to Haiti, or a proponent of white Christian nationalism .. all of you are within arms length of people who need you in some manner. We possess the power in a technological advanced and global world to do something about it. I would start with loving and relating to your neighbors.