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The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted “Exceptional people: How immigration shaped our world and will define our future” by Ian Goldin and Geoffrey Cameron from University of Oxford.

One important point they make is that the “native-born” workforce will actually shrink in developing countries. “Medical and public health advances mean that people are living longer, while persistently low fertility levels and the end of the post-World War Two baby-boom mean that the number of native-born workers in developed countries will fall in the coming years.” They also speculate on the positive economic impact of open borders.

The comments in reaction to the article are more revealing than the article itself. People who are not supportive of open borders write that immigrants will “destroy social cohesion” and drive home prices up.

I never cease to be amazed at how fear and paranoia are, unfortunately, driving the policies. One smart comment points out that we don’t treat all immigrants the same and that the immigrants who achieve Nobel Prize status are usually not from Africa. However, most comments are driven by readers’ fears. What has to happen for people to realize that we are all immigrants?

I’m just a non-immigrant with an immigrant mind. Read the article yourself and tell me what is it that makes immigration so intimidating. http://blogs.wsj.com/source/2011/07/17/five-reasons-why-we-should-embrace-migrants/

All photos by Susan Harbage Page. Essay by Inés Valdez.

The folks from Emory University, Southern Spaces e-Journal, have done it again. They consistently select multimedia works that illustrate the shifting boundaries of the U.S. South.

This time, “Residues of Border Control” collects photos of the U.S.-Mexico border area and the physical remnants of crossings. The photographer “offer[s] a critical account of the danger and potential violence involved in the border crossing and, through that critique, suggest[s] the need to come up with new imagined geographies of the border. The accompanying essay suggests “that the highlighting of these residues acts as a powerful sign of the unfinished status of even the most secured border, and by extension the possibility of changing the existing terms of the debate and ultimately the shape of the border and the options offered to migrants upon arrival.”

From Southern Spaces editors: “This essay offers an interpretation of the Border Project’s intervention on the immigration public debate. By photographing the border area and the physical remnants of crossings that are not sanctioned by the law, the photographer highlights the institutions of coercion that characterize border control. The photographs offer a critical account of the danger and potential violence involved in the border crossing and, through that critique, suggest the need to come up with new imagined geographies of the border. By concentrating on the border, the photographer illuminates dimensions of this space that are hardly ever considered in a conversation that revolves around fortification, fencing, and security. The objects depicted can be identified as residues of border coercion—evidence that even tightly fenced borders offer, on closer inspection, unrounded edges, gaps, and traces. I suggest that the highlighting of these residues acts as a powerful sign of the unfinished status of even the most secured border, and by extension the possibility of changing the existing terms of the debate and ultimately the shape of the border and the options offered to migrants upon arrival.”

I love it when academics turn a little edgy even through the academese. This is another great collection that deserves a wide audience. See for yourself.

This week’s State of the Union address, especially the brief mention of immigration reform, reminded me of iCarly. In one episode of the Nickelodeon show, Carly (protagonist and good girl) is coached by Samantha (aka Sam the bad girl, and every bit an antagonist and anti-hero) on how to win a teen beauty pageant. Carly gets some practical advice on important details like padding her bra, waving like a beauty queen and punctuating the answer to every question with “…for the children.” Sam says it doesn’t matter what the question is, the answer should always be something like “we must end world hunger…for the children.”

Well, President Obama went to the State of the Union pageant with a message of unification — something this country needs before we can move on. He supported every point with phrases like “work together” and “win the future.” When it came to the tough and divisive issue of immigration reform, he went with a safe “…for the children.” What’s more, it seemed like we need to fix immigration for the sake of the citizen’s children, not for the immigrants’children who are under threat of deportation as he pointed out. It behooves us to be competitive and keep young talent here, he said, rather than deporting people educated here so they can compete with us from their home countries. That should appeal to some people…like Tea Party followers?

It was good to hear Medicare/Medicaid and fixing the deficit in the same sentence. (I look forward to the President’s comments today at the Health Action Conference.) I also give the President a thumbs up for making a call for more teachers, and suggesting we consider teachers “nation builders” as they do in South Korea.

No one can fix the world in 61 minutes. (See Fraser Seitel’s review of the speech as far as PR effectiveness.) There really is a need for compromise and hard work ahead. But I heard so much compromise in a speech that relied heavily on old fashioned (meaning 19th century) manifest destiny of what a great nation we are because we outperformed everyone else. I don’t want to fix immigration in order to take advantage of young talent; I want to fix immigration because we’ve been taking advantage of talent (young and old) for two centuries and we haven’t recognized where we came from. Reforming immigration is about justice that begins at home, not global competition.

Am I the only person who gets the interconnectedness of the term glocal? I must not be alone if President Obama ended his speech with a great glocal example of a local Pennsylvania company that went global by helping the Chilean miners. Maybe this country is not ready for glocal, but the rest of the world might be. Instead of building a better border wall and worrying about who we’re taking to the State of the Union prom, let’s grow up, work together and really Race to the Top. Let’s not waste time in 19th century colonial competitions. It IS for the children – ALL the children.

I was impressed by all the stories, all 33 of them. But the one that made me stop in my tracks was the story of Carlos Mamani. He’s the bolivian miner. He has been in Chile about four years and married a Bolivian emigrant named Veronica, who was there waiting for him along with their 18-month-old daughter and his in-laws. He was the fourth rescued miner, based on his abilities as a worker and on his physical condition, rather than his tenure or citizenship.

Carlos had been on this particular job site for only five days. Then the mine collapsed and he was trapped for 69 days. When he saw the light of day again, his wife and more than 2,000 people were there to welcome him back to life. Cameras from around the world transmitted his image as he waited for the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, to greet him. While we all waited for the rescue, President Morales had given a heartfelt thank you to the people of Chile for rescuing “our bolivian brother,” and said he was hoping Carlos would return to Bolivia in the presidential plane. Housing and employment would be provided by the government of Bolivia, no questions asked.

Tempting as that sounds, Carlos and his family decided to…stay in their new home: Chile.

According to The New York Times, Carlos Mamani is the eighth of 10 children; the parents passed away. His family survived by cultivating potatoes and herding cattle and sheep in Bolivia. Like many impoverished indigenous compatriots, he moved to Chile in search of work. He worked in mining before he went to San Jose, where the mine collapsed. He was rescued. He sang the Chilean anthem with his fellow miners. He was greeted by the presidents of the two countries where he has divided his life.

How would a situation like this play out in the United States?

What if we had to rescue 33 workers out of the earth in the Arizona desert?

What if some of them were not Americans? Would we display the humanity and efficiency of our southamerican counterparts?

Would they send up a message saying, “we’re fine, all 33 of us”? How would we respond? Would we be able to convey solidarity and unyielding support? Would we rally to get them out as safely and efficiently as the Chilean government did? (Or as the Pennsylvania workers who built the drill bits for the rescue?)

To compound things, think about the fact that Chile was the aggressor country that took away coastal access from Bolivia. They have consuls in each others’ countries, not ambassadors, because the governments are not that friendly. Chile news crews described Carlos as “the bolivian” or “the immigrant” in their profiles of the trapped miners. Carlos’ in-laws reportedly came to Chile to pick grapes. They haven’t lived in the lap of luxury while working in Chile, and they probably won’t in the future. The presidential plane is waiting for them to take them home, yet they decide to stay. Bolivians woke up to this headline on 10/14/10: MAMANI SE QUEDA EN CHILE (Mamani stays in Chile). 

Choosing a place to live is a personal decision that should be respected. People from the United States make those decisions every day, mostly based on employment opportunities and quality of life. Yet, some seem to take those decisions for granted, and think nothing of denying that right to others who have invested sweat equity and money in their economy, and sometimes worked under deplorable conditions on behalf of priviledged citizens. Carlos Mamani is emblematic of the tough decisions emigrants all over the world must make. I commend him and his family for their courage in making a tough choice. I have no doubt they’re thinking about their future and the future of the little girl. Let’s hope San Lorenzo, patron saint of miners after whom the rescue operation was named, will continue to guide Carlos and the other miners who accepted him as one of their own.

I was supposed to be somewhere else. But I was unpacking my house, childcare fell through, complications ensued, and I ended up working at home when I thought I should have been at my monthly writers’ meeting. But when I heard my friend’s voice on the other side of the line, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Her attorney finally found a way to petition for her to stay in the country. She and her family have been struggling for 15 years just to attain the right to make this petition. They have put more sweat equity into this country than anyone I know. They have stooped down to work in places other people with their level of education would never consider. The moment they have been working toward all these years seemed so attainable and yet so elusive. What if this doesn’t work? What if we missed a form? What if we have followed the law all these years and it was all in vain? I couldn’t answer all these questions, but I was in the right spot at the right moment to help my friend through a difficult and nerve-wrecking step.

My friend made the deadline and filed the paperwork. Now it’s up to that discombobulated entity we call Homeland Security to decide their fate. Nothing is secure. There are no guarantees that the American Dream won’t turn into the Nightmare on Deportation Street. Still, people attempt the impossible at a time of so much fear and hatred. Minions of minutemen citizens in Arizona point their rifles at the border. Some members of Congress want to revisit the 14th amendment and turn it into a weapon for denying rights to U.S. citizens. Sarah Palin fans blindly allow our military families to be used for rallying more fear and paranoia in a Washington, D.C. event ironically held on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.

It feels like the right moment: The right moment to remind ourselves that this IS the moment to keep fighting for a dream that belongs to all of us – the ones who crossed the border/ocean (recently or generations ago) and the ones who get crossed out of the dream.

It also feels like the right time to shift topsy-turvy priorities. Shift means change. Change is what’s rolling off the warm Atlantic waters in the form of hurricanes. Bonnie, Danielle, Earl, Igor…change is coming at us in steady waves. Change will catch up with us, whether or not we’re aware it’s time for change.

In the early 1990s, when I worked in a newspaper newsroom, I had a co-worker named Patty who happened to have a regular white-bread American dad and a Japanese-American mom. Patty worked at the Sports desk and I worked at the Metro desk. She could duke it out with the boys about NFL and college football. I still thought pigskin was something you fry and eat. She was assertive and loud. I was reserved and soft-spoken. She banged the ATEX keyboard with great gusto and power. I constantly complained that the old dinosaur of a keyboard was killing my wrists. We had journalism school at the University of Central Florida in common, but, outside of that, little else to chat about. Still, we were friendly.

For some odd reason, people thought we were twins. They used to mix up our names. They stopped me in the hall and asked if I had a sister in Sports. We were both puzzled by this, but thought it was cute and played along (at least I did). We guessed people saw two petite young women with dark brown hair, round faces and non-descript eyes and they found us a bit similar. In a they’re-both-hard-to-describe sort of way. From far away. Under the fluorescent lights of a labyrinthine newsroom where people could get disoriented and confused. Perhaps back then my cheeks were rounder and higher than they are in my more mature stage, and her hair was fuller and wavier according to the day’s fashion…  

She was there one night when a group of us were hovering near the tube waiting for proofs to be sent up from the production department (sigh, the old days before we went digital and everything was ACTUAL cut and paste and halftones and TCE-leaking darkrooms…we’ll save that for a future piece on urban pollution) and the history columnist, of all people, asked if I needed a green card to work in the U.S., just recently having come from a newsroom in Puerto Rico. Patty and other well-informed people jumped to my defense and chastised him for not knowing that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. All I had left to say was mention the Jones Act of 1917, which made my grandparents citizens. I think Patty mentioned her mom didn’t need a green card either. She, and others, certainly became indignant on my behalf. I ended up defending the history writer and keeping the rest of them from beating him with the nearest ATEX keyboard (those things were about three inches thick).

The point of all this, besides telling you about the darn ATEX, is that ethnicity, nationality, color and race (or any combination thereof) cannot be assumed. They never could be, and lately the old labels seem more irrelevant than ever. Yet the census bureau persists on asking us fifteen different ways what “color” and/or “race” we are, after they ask us some iffy ethnicity questions. Every time they try to be more “politically correct,” the questions become more laughable. I looked for an “Amerasian turning Puerto Rican*” category on the census form but couldn’t find it.

I wonder how my “sister” is doing these days. I wonder what she puts down on the census form.

*I actually feel more Puerto Rican the longer I live on the mainland as opposed to the island. This would be the reverse of Esmeralda Santiago, author of the memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.

Esto va dedicado a mis amigos Bertha y Julian, las vidas traducidas mas bonitas que he conocido.