What is happening on the southwest border of the U.S. right now is appalling. The old adage “if you don’t know your history you are bound to repeat it” reverberates across the Rio Grande in South Texas. The groups of so-called Americans protesting with disgusting racial slurs, signs, and blind ignorance; the influx of unaccompanied minor children and women fleeing the violence, poverty, and lack of any promise for a future in their Central American homelands is nauseating, especially when one looks at the history and ancestry of those shouting the loudest. Do they realize how they came to be called Americans? The inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads in part:
“Give me your tired, your poor, ?
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…?
Immigrants of many nations, those fleeing tyranny, poverty, violence and the disillusion of any future promise, have built the United States of America. They set out to find a place to build a better life and sacrificed everything for the hope of doing just that. The only TRUE Americans by right of birth and legacy are the indigenous NATIVE PEOPLE, which includes the Ancient Inca, Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The very borderlands being fought over right now belonged to these indigenous populations before they were taken in treachery and conquest. How can those who stand in opposition to these Central American refugees not recognize the hypocrisy of their disdain as they ludicrously assume a posture of “Get Out of My Country” and “Go Back Home”, given the people they oppose have more legitimate claim to the land on which they stand than those fervently waving the American flag.
The irony is when looking at ancestral legacy, they are HOME and if they knew their own history they could be shouting too!
There is a visual dissonance that resonates with the rhetoric at the border that reminds me of how I feel when I am in South Africa. It is the only place on the continent (and it should be said I have not visited all 53 countries) where I feel the wounds of Colonialism and Apartheid in a visceral way. I see them and I am reminded of that nation’s brutal history and, by association, my own. There are white South Africans and somehow that is un-natural to me. It is clear that they are not indigenous people, that their ancestry is European not African, and yet they claim their African heritage as if it had been that way all along. Eish! It is hard to swallow and yet it is so. And though the politics of the “new” South Africa are too complex to elucidate here, the fact is the wealth of the nation is in the hands of whites still. They do not share the wealth or the power equitably; there is a black South African who is the democratically elected head of state, but that does not change embedded systems of oppression, does it? Indigenous Africans are suffering in their own land from lack of resources, opportunities, and access while begging whites for bread. The situational irony here cannot be ignored, and at the border of the USA, the visual dissonance of a rabid group of white “citizens” shouting at brown women and children “Round ‘em up & ship’em back!” begs the question. Whose country is this anyway? The lack of recognition and knowledge of how the U.S. came to be the land of the free…is an indictment of our collective amnesia.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University