I don’t think it’s a secret (at least not if you’ve kept up with my writing) that I am ethnically Jewish. In fact, though I don’t observe the faith of my ancestors, I am quite proud of my heritage as an Ashkenazi Jew.
I am also well aware of the privilege my skin color has purchased for me in the century and change since my families arrived at Ellis Island, at the turn of the last century.
These two points cannot be separated in my mind. I can do things today that my ancestors purchased for me by moving their families to the United States, somewhere between 1898 and 1908, to escape oppression in their home countries. Let’s be clear about this: I am not white. At least not by the definition of those yutzes with tiki torches who marched in Charlottesville almost a year ago and who now think it’s fine now to run for office, out and proud as the Nazi white supremacists they are.
My family immigrated to this country at the turn of the last century. They arrived sometime between the last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th. But were my ancestors immigrants? Refugees? Migrants?
These words are not interchangeable, despite the current predilection for the press to use them that way. It just strikes me as sloppy reporting. The words have separate meanings and they predict the reactions of those who hear them.
a person who attempts to permanently relocate to a new country, but who may be subject to removal by the government of that country:
a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.
a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.
There is no question in my mind about the motivation of my family members from Belarus/Ukraine. They came to the US, and to England, to escape Russian pogroms. The Austrians, the Poles, also came because being Jewish was not acceptable just over a century ago in these countries. The ones already in England arrived much earlier, and for similar reasons. (See: Spanish Inquisition and resulting anti-Semitic laws that were in place when they got there in the 1600s.)
When my ancestors arrived at Ellis Island, there wasn’t a single country (including this one) that did not restrict what a Jew could do to earn money, to raise a family, or to simply exist. (http://www.onlyinamerica.info/index.shtml)
Wikipedia has a decent overview of Jewish Immigration and the scope of the influx from Europe, as well as the anti-Semitic laws that were in place. There are a bunch of sources at the bottom of the article, which I invite you to review on your own time.
As time went on, and families learned to suppress their backgrounds, to hide their ethnicity, to blend in and assimilate. Not all, mind you, or there wouldn’t be pockets of ultraconservative Hassidim in the U.S., just as there wouldn’t be Amish or other fundamentalist communities of faith.
And that, right there, is a clue to where we were.
But that’s not where we are today.
Today we’re rounding up families of refugees seeking asylum and then stealing their kids. That’s far more insidious.
These families, from Guatemala, Honduras, and other Central and South American countries risked everything, paid all they had, to come to the US for protection and a shot at life. And in the last several days, it’s become abundantly clear what Trump and his administration think of asylum-seeking families who are running for their lives.
There was this quote from Trump’s Twitter feed, which was bad enough:
We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out — it’s crazy. The dumbest laws — as I said before — the dumbest laws on immigration in the world.
Snopes declared the interpretation as a mixture which might still be true, except he then followed up with this:
Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
There it is. Trump’s use of the word “infest” can’t be ignored. We aren’t just talking about gangs. It’s immigrants in general, and the Democrats are to blame.
Except…except that these refugees are running largely from danger WE caused, with our “war on drugs” and with the greed and avarice of drug dealers and criminals. They have come here with their families, like mine did, to escape their violence-ravaged countries. Generally, they’ve followed the steps they know. Come here, ask for asylum, gain protection, and win a chance to live free while working hard to support our country in all the menial ways our own people won’t serve: As nannies, housekeepers, ditch diggers and more.
That’s the law Trump wants changed. He wants to stop them from coming at all. His buddies on the Right side of the aisle want the same, because they fear for their cushy seats in the halls of power.
There is a pathological fear that these people, when they become legal citizens of this country, will swell the ranks of liberals and cause an end to the white privilege that has existed, no matter how wrong headed, since the founding of this country.
Trump wants to build a wall, to keep people out, or to make money for those whose companies stand to make money in the process. You can follow the money to see where these money-makers will benefit off the tears of families living in fear.
But this practice of separating children from their parents? That’s a whole different level of despicable. It bears far more than a passing resemblance to the Nazi practice of separating children from parents as they were shipped to concentration camps.
There is nothing…NOTHING… that can justify these actions. If you truly believe that these children deserve to be treated as they are, if their parents asked for it, then you yourself are a monster.
Could you look your own child in the eye and then put that child in a cage, and just walk away?
If you can justify this in any way, you are no better than the Germans who were just doing their jobs, as they worked in the concentration camps as their population turned to walking skeletons.
Not hyperbole. This is what we are.
It is what we were when we allowed African American slavery and Jim Crow laws to rule.
It’s what we were when we took Native American children and forced them into American Indian Boarding Schools.
It is what we did when we rounded up Japanese American families during World War II.
If you can’t support the actions of this government, NOW is the time to step up. Call them what they are. Concentration camps. Not detention centers. Not tent cities. Not correctional facilities.
Call your representatives. Spill out into the street. Shout from the rooftops if you have to. Because if you don’t, your own family could be next.