Growing up, the song “This Land Is Your Land” was taught to us as a patriotic song, but if you’ve ever read anything about it, you know that Woodie Guthrie, the song’s creator, wrote it as a retort to “God Bless America.” He originally titled it “God Blessed America for Me,” but changed it to what we know it as now.
Interestingly, one of the verses that didn’t get released in the mainstream version of the song was:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.
Kind of eerily prescient, for a song written in 1940, no?
We’re still trying to figure out who has a “right” to “our” land. Shortly after the executive order immigration and travel ban made by the current president, I was listening to an interview of a woman who was a server at a restaurant in a working class town in Pennsylvania. The interviewer asked her how she felt about immigration, and she stated she was against “them” trying to come and take “our” jobs. A couple questions later, he asked her what her family history was, and she proudly answered that her family had come through Ellis Island in search of a better life. The irony was thick enough to carve. The interviewer said that the woman realized her hypocritical responses within a minute or two but chose not to share her realization on air.
Whether, who, and how people are able to come into the United States has always been a complex issue and is certainly a hot topic right now. I wrote about it back in September of 2015, and it eventually ran in The Huffington Post—a story in itself. The fact that it received over 500 mostly scathing comments in a few hours was a telling sign of the ever-growing divide occurring in our country.
In rereading that piece, I see that some of my comments could be interpreted as being in “support” of illegal immigration, but my whole intent was really to remind us to deal with the issue with a compassionate heart, remembering that–unless we are Native American–we, too, have family stories of immigrating to this country…just as the Pennsylvania server did. We absolutely need a comprehensive and working system in place. I just feel like we also need to remember that “they” are really “us”–except with a different birthplace.
So…on this Presidents’ Day of 2017, I thought I’d rerun the old girl and see what other trouble I could get myself into…
Us Vs Them
Originally posted September 21, 2015
Don’t get me started on Donald Trump and how much it scares me that there are some people out there—including women, which astounds me—who think he should be our president. The focus here isn’t on the polarization of politics, and certainly Donald is polarizing if nothing else. I only bring him up because it amuses me that he has taken credit (of course) for creating the conversation on illegal immigration, and that is my real focus today. (Perhaps another time, Donald.)
Illegal immigration is definitely a hot—and complicated—topic, and one that makes my heart hurt.
Whenever I hear people talk of keeping “them” out by building a wall or whatever method, I can’t help but feel the sad irony of it.
Recently, I had a conversation where someone asked me, “What do you think about all these refugees ready to overtake our land?”
“You know who else said that?” I asked.
“The Native Americans.”
…I really don’t understand how folks can forget that truth about the history of the United States.
I can take no credit for being an American citizen. I didn’t earn it. My parents lived here, and voila…I was born an American citizen. And while America is far from perfect and we need to address some tough issues rather than sweep them under the rug, this country is a beacon to so many who were not fortunate to be born into a land of opportunity.
I could have been born in a country racked by civil war.
I could have been born in a country that allows “honor killing” of women simply because their family feels insulted.
(Though different, we must face our own women’s issues in the U.S., as there are plenty of men in suits up on Capitol Hill that are trying to prohibit me from having rights to my own body.)
I could have been born in a country with rampant poverty and little, if any, opportunity.
I could have been born in any number of places where rights are nonexistent or there is no such thing as safety.
I wasn’t…but millions…and millions…of others are.
While I was born in America, my grandfather wasn’t. He came to America for the same reasons that so, so many others do: to make a better life for himself and his family. And, obviously, he wasn’t the only ancestor of mine to make that choice.
Because of my grandfather’s journey of hope, my family is here.
Grandpa was a hard worker, working as a manual laborer his whole life. Though he wasn’t able to move beyond that kind of backbreaking work, his children were. He paved the wave for that better life, and today’s immigrants are no different. How can we blame anyone who wants to escape danger and poverty for safety and food?
We can go ahead and argue that they should do it legally, but that process is very flawed and outdated. For me, all I need to do is put myself in the place of someone who is living in poverty or war and think, “What should I do for my family? Should I wait years—maybe even decades—to go through the proper channels? Life is happening now. My kids are hungry now. I need a job now…” My grandfather was able to come to America legally, but I wonder what he would have done if that option wasn’t available to him.
98% of undocumented workers prefer to live and work legally in the United States and would do so if they could. Now, I don’t pretend to know even close to everything about this issue, but I personally believe that if we put our resources into ascertaining any criminals or terrorists who are trying to come to America and make sure that they don’t get in, while we facilitate an effective process to welcome those who are ready to be law-abiding members of our society, we would have a much healthier and vibrant country.
Years ago when I worked as a waitress, I worked with a number of busboys who were from Mexico. In a job that is very low on the pay scale, they could earn enough to send money back to Mexico and provide for their families. In order to do so, they shared cramped apartments to save more money, all the while missing their loved ones terribly. We would talk, and they would tell me how much they were looking forward to the month that they would be able to go home and visit. They worked their butts off eleven months out of the year while longing for that one month. I learned a lot from them about dedication and sacrifice.
America’s legacy is written on the pedestal tablet of the Statue of Liberty. Many of us may know the “give me your tired, your poor” part, but if you’ve never read the poem, written by Emma Lazarus, in its entirety, take a look:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It doesn’t continue, “Until we decide that we no longer want them.”
It’s not Us vs Them. It’s Us and Us.
9 thoughts on “Is This Land Really Your Land?”
Knowing that you got so many scathing comments after this was posted in the Huffington Post, I’ve decided this time to add some things that would also receive negative comments from some: I totally agree with you when you write that we should do our best NOT to allow criminals in the U.S., and that we should make it easier for good people striving for a better life to get in. I have only traveled to Mexico, so I’ve been exposed to just a drop in the bucket of those looking for better circumstances, but seeing the need of some of the Mexican people, I do not blame them in the least for trying to do whatever needs to be done to help their families survive (not necessarily prosper, just survive). I also teach high school in a Republican county which houses so many Trump supporters. I would love for some of the Mexican immigrants to rub against some of my white privileged students to see if some of their work ethic will stick!!
Yes, indeed. When those of us who have been born into various avenues of privilege realize that it’s not the same for everyone as it is for us, then the real problem solving can begin.
Wow–I had no idea about the missing verse! Woody Guthrie was psychic:).
Psychic indeed. But it also speaks to the ongoing struggle of us vs them…Will we ever figure it out?
I hope better than we have over the past few months, that’s for sure.
“I’ve seen many migrant crop-picking people about the country: Hindus, Filipinos, Mexicans, Okies away from their state. Here in Maine a great many were French Canadians who came over the border for the harvest season. It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work. i hope we may not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not too proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat.” — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, 1962.
the more things change…the more they stay the same…
Sometimes I think of how cool it would be to have a post make it to publication in somewhere like the Huffington Post. But then again, I see the disrespect in so many of the comments on these posts. This reminds me to be content with my own loyal group of followers of my little blog that I feel many have become friends.
Such a well researched and presented article Lisa. The history of the United states and Canada (where I am from) is very similar. We are all refugees except for the Natives before us. The atrocities committed against these people while we took over the land is something we cannot be proud of.
When the look at the oppression that takes place in so many other countries it does make me feel very privileged to live where I am.
Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Thank you, Carl! And I love your thoughtful blog!