Watching the primary campaigns (as little as possible to tell the truth) I am again struck by this notion of ‘immigrant.’
The conversation begins with who is and who is not permitted to be in our country. But this is not the beginning. Beginning the conversation with borders, allows us to forget our history and instead grasp for righteousness. The conversation is rigged from the start with national security balanced against national conscience. On one side the cries of economic stability and protection against terrorism. On the other, the cries of human rights and access to opportunity. So many words arguing across this line. So many lives threatened in one way or another.
An acquaintance of mine recently pointed to the line. He said something about blurring the line. He spoke about the artificial nature of the line. As an architect, he certainly knows something about lines and what they represent. But his words shook something else inside me.
Who draws the line?
That question drives me in many ways. Understanding who draws the line and why is a life long pursuit. In that endeavor, I am immediately confronted with where I stand in relation to the line. Am I on the left or the right? Inside or outside? Above or below? Do I straddle the line or have I made a choice?
The identity I carry is the same as the one who draws this line. Maybe not the actual map maker, who is represented by thousands of hands, but assuredly by the policy maker who at some point, drew a line on a map to say, “everything on this side belongs to us.” Then the scribes and the cartographers went to work, imprinting this line into law and practice. As a white American man, I know which side of the line I belong on.
But I question it. My ancestors arrived in America searching for the Dream. They came as many contemporary immigrants come, looking to provide a better life for themselves, and for me. And while I do not know for sure, I feel safe in assuming none of them considered the Nations that were here before First Contact. Which brings me to questioning the validity of my knowing which side of this line I belong on.
Belonging makes all the difference. If I belong, I have safety. I have opportunity. I have community. I have home. To question this belonging is to question the fabric of my entire experience. Who am I if I belong to the colonizers? Who am I if my belonging is rooted in genocide?
Coming to grips with the colonial project has been painful. My first impulse was to deny my complicity. It is too much weight to bear. My heart burns when I remember the pain and death my people have delivered to this continent. The people, the land, the animals. All have felt the touch of our supremacy and none have been spared. But this pain is hard to really grasp. It is too overwhelming and spans more generations than I can embrace. The most painful piece has been recognizing myself.
I want to belong. From the first memories of kindergarten recess, I have had a deep driving need to belong. The comfort and love within my family has been present from the first. I have been fortunate to know this kind of support. But still, I have always searched for ‘my people.’
The insidious manifestation of this search has been in the form of supremacy. My culture teaches us to ‘Strive for Excellence.’ And really, this is a pretty good value to hold. Unfortunately, that ‘Excellence’ more often than not, implies being ‘better’ than the rest. Being on top. Being faster, stronger, smarter, keener, more agile. My thesaurus lists Supremacy as a synonym for Excellence. Even in this fortune cookie wisdom, imparted to (how many?) boy scouts, sports teams, and graduating seniors, the roots of supremacy can be unearthed.
That supremacy has been my key to belonging.
My choice of tools has long been words. Debate class in Junior High. Dinner table discussions. Professional discourse. But most painful to recognize; negotiating relationships. My goal has been to win and be right. This supremacy was promised to me from early on, but not guaranteed without effort on my part. And that effort must be bent toward Excellence. That effort was designed to prove my Supremacy.
Recognizing this shook me to my core. It was always there. The arrogance was easy for everyone around me to see, but invisible to me. I honestly have believed most of my life that my view was the ‘best’ view. That my perspective was the ‘truth.’ I struggle with it now. It marked me in ways that I still do not fully understand.
And it marked those around me as well.
My supremacy hurt the people I love the most. That knowledge, more than almost anything, is what has compelled me to change and understand myself in a new context. I have seen how that supremacy has kept me distant from community and denied me belonging. I did it to myself.
What I remind myself is that I was taught this. With all the best of intentions, I was raised to Strive for Excellence. And perhaps you read this and think that Excellence is not such a bad thing. Surely being the best person I can be is a worthy thing. It is. But this Excellence, or Supremacy, is dependent upon someone else’s inferiority. And that is what hurts.
It seems to me that this drive to belong, through the avenue of supremacy, is what gives us the ability to deny the humanity of the immigrant. To be able to draw a line across the land and declare that line inviolate, can only be possible if we see ourselves as superior to the people on the other side of the line. Indeed, it is only possible if we see ourselves as superior to the land itself.
So how can I belong? If I reject the notion of supremacy, I am no longer a viable member of the race I was born into. Do not misunderstand; I am still recognized as a member and enjoy the privileges thereof. But I no longer know how to belong. There was no teaching that said, Strive for Equity. There was no instruction on how to be in community. Nobody taught me what humility looks like. How can I belong once I reject supremacy?
This is what I am attempting to learn. Community has many places within it. There are those who were born into community. There are those that come into community at a young age. There are those that have just shown up. There are those that arrived in community so many generations ago, that the names of the original individuals have been lost. Each of those places within community has a different way of moving and articulating. There is no need to draw a line.
Learning to see with immigrant eyes on this land requires me to learn the movements of the immigrant. This is how I can find belonging in community. To recognize that the immigrant belongs to community is not to suppose the supremacy of either the local or the immigrant. It is simply to recognize that each has a role to fill that is different than the other. Together, the local and the immigrant, move in creating community in a way that it did not exist yesterday, and will not exist tomorrow.
This is belonging.