Lapham’s Quarterly – Migration

In general I’m all for the free movement of people as a guiding principle. However, I understand the need for secure borders and that it should be done legally. As it has been for the past couple hundred years, migration is a political issue that is hotly debated today. Secure borders should be a given. However, if I were a poor migrant trying to survive then rules and regulations created by elites wouldn’t matter much to me. I would also cross illegally if there was a path to a better life and doing so in a legal manner was not an option. It is easy to be for secure borders when you’re living in the wealthy country and easy to ignore those rules when you’re a poor migrant. I wish the politicians could have open and honest debates about this, not just stir up anger and fear among the voters to strengthen their own positions.

As a traveler myself, I’d be all for easier access to other countries. Yes, as a US passport holder I can easily go to visit foreign countries but think it would be nice to be able to live and work without all the restrictions. So it is with great interest I read this edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. Here are my highlights.

The white Southerns swore they wouldn’t stay because they wouldn’t be able to take the cold weather and the big city jobs. But they were wrong about that just the way they’ve been wrong about everything else they ever said about the Negro. – Mahalia Jackson, from “Movin’ On Up.”

Yes, and a lot of Southerners continue to be wrong about a lot of things, especially current politics. What is it now? Let’s pick on the trans kids and gay community? In a place where racism is still very much alive and well they want to erase the past in a misguided attempt to ease their conscious. How hypocritical to go to church where love is preached then turn right around and discriminate with hateful policies. And that leads us to the next quote.

O ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friend to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? – Olaudah Equiano from The Interesting Narrative of the “Life of Olaudah Equiano.”

Let us leave this Europe which never stops talking of Man yet massacres him at every one of its street corners, at every corner of the world. – Frantz Fanon, 1961

Europe, a place of enlightenment. Europe is the birthplace of philosophy, of the Renaissance. It is also the place that is at constant war with brief pauses. As I often say, humans are tribal. If everyone spoke the same language, were the same color, had the same customs and ideas, were economically equal, and had the same religion, then there just might be a slim chance for peace. Although I’m pretty certain we as a species would find something to fight over eventually.

I am not Athenian or Greek but a citizen of the world. – Socrates, c. 420 BC.

I just read The Count of Monte Cristo where Edmund Dantés declared himself a cosmopolitan. I too like to consider myself a citizen of the world. This seems to be an unpopular opinion among the rising nationalist right wing these days.

History does not tell us whether Eric the Red and his successors traded with Indians for furs. If they got to Minnesota, as the legends say, they had to when the winter closed in. Besides strange birds and herbs and carvings, there may have been furs in the wealth that the Admiral of the Ocean piled in Queen Isabella’s throne room. Certainly, before Spain or France or England sent explorers up the tidal rivers, coasting fishermen from overseas made deals for furs with the native savages – Bernard De Voto, from “The Year of Decision”: 1846

Hold your teacup with both hands, stay out of the sun, never say more than you have to.
Most of us on the boat were accomplished and were sure we would make good wives. We knew how to cook and sew. We knew how to serve tea and arrange flowers and sit quietly on our flat wide feet for hours, saying absolutely nothing of substance at all. A girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exist. We knew how to behave at funerals, and how to write short, melancholy poems about the passing of autumn that were exactly seventeen syllables long; We knew how to pull weeds and chop kindling and haul water, and one of us – the rice miller’s daughter – knew how to walk two miles into town with an eighty-pound sack of rice on her back without once breaking into a sweat. It’s all in the way you breathe. Most of us had good manners and were extremely polite, except for when we got mad and cursed like sailors. Most of us spoke like ladies most of the time, with our voices pitched high, and pretended to know much less than we did, and whenever we walked past the deckhands, we made sure to take small, mincing steps with our toes turned properly in. Because how many times had our mothers told us, Walk like the city, not like the farm! – Julie Otsuka from “The Buddha in the Attic.”

This is a fictional novel based on real events, that of Japanese women becoming brides for workers in Hawaii and California. I appreciate the quote about walking like the city and not like the farm. When in Japan I learned that being from the countryside is something to hide. There is even a hilarious Japanese comedy called “Tonde Saitama” (翔んで埼玉). The translation is not literal but something more like, escape from Saitama which is a countryside prefecture and where my wife is from. Tokyo, being the elite metropolis has closed their borders to those barbarians Saitama and Chiba and there are hints of war to keep them out. My favorite scene is when a farmer from Saitama starts to cry and admits that when a foreigner asks where he is from he says Tokyo and not Saitama. It is hilarious because my wife does the same.

Even in Cociany there was a saying: “The outer dress covers the inside mess.” – Chava Rosenfarb, from “Of Lodz and Love.”

Beauty is also only skin deep.

I was convinced you can’t go home again. Now I know better. Nothing is more untrue. I know you go back over and over again, seeking the self you left behind. – Helen Bevington, 1971.

I love going back to my home state of Ohio, especially Grandview. It is a place of memories, and it nourishes my soul. It is a part of me that goes deeper than San Francisco or any other place I’ve lived ever could.

At the base of it is the fact that man is a child of the customs and the things he has become used to. He is not the product of his natural disposition and temperament. The conditions to which he has become accustomed, until they have become for him a quality of character and matters of habit and custom, have replaced his natural disposition. – Ibn Khaldun, from the “Muqaddimah.”

It is no surprise that people in the same place usually adhere to the same political opinions and religion. It is the environment which assimilates them. If this were not the case then every other house would be of a different political mindset and religion. But no, people believe what their parents and community do for the most part and this is how it has always been.

Just as “Real Americana” lies always in the past or a distant geographical location, “Real India” is a ghostly, lost ideal. – Anjali Vaidya, from “Native or Invasive.”

“Real Americana” is a myth, an illusion, a child’s story to persuade the populace to go along with whatever their goals are. They conscript the flag, which stands for all Americans by putting 43 of them behind their leaders as if they are the only ones that can claim it. Any criticism is prohibited. It is a loud, obnoxious and ignorant bunch. I am of the disposition to be kind and perhaps even love everyone but that is hard to do when they’re telling you if you don’t agree with them then you’re not a “real American” and should leave. It is idiotic. This quote from Blazing Saddles is spot on when describing many of them.

“You’ve got to remember these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know…. morons.

I’m begging you, young men, leave me be! Enough with these My Lords! What do you want me to do with you? Go and laugh in the chancery, as if I weren’t here! Do you think you can make me take this masquerade seriously? Do you think I’m stupid enough to believe that my nature has changed because I’ve changed my clothes. The Marquess of Londonderry is coming to call, you say; the Duke of Wellington has left his card; Mr. Canning came looking for me; Lady Jersey expects me for dinner with Lord Brougham; Lady Gwydir hopes that I will join her in her box at the opera at ten o’clock; Lady Mansfield, at midnight, at Almack’s…
Have mercy on me! After all, where can i hide? Who will deliver me? Who will rescue me from these persecutions? Come back, you lovely days of indigence and solitude! Rise up and live again, my companions in exile! Let us go, old comrades of the camp bed and the pallet, let us go out into the country, into the little garden of some forgotten tavern, and drink a bad cup of tea on a wooden bench, talking of our foolish hopes and our ungrateful homeland, mulling over our troubles, looking for ways to help each other or one of our relations even worse off than ourselves – François-René de Chateaubriand, from Memoirs from “Beyond the Grave.”

It is only natural to want to improve ones station in life. But I enjoy learning the reality from those who have reached those illustrious heights and see that it is not as wonderful as it appears to be. I’m reminded to be grateful and happy with what I have and that happiness is a state of mind, not accumulated possessions.

Looking ack at the past decade, the first group of country girls to enter the city as migrant workers is reminiscent of the young people who were sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution era. They went to the countryside from the city, whereas we went from the countryside to the city. Both groups suffered both physically and psychologically. They were swamped by the waves of politics, whereas we are swamped by the waves of the market economy. Compred with them, we are much more fortunate – Mian Xiaohong from “Burdened Youth.”

I had found him sighing for the “good old days” when the legend “no Irish need apply” was familiar in the advertising columns of the newspapers. …..
The once unwelcome Irishman has been followed in his turn by the Italian, the Russian Jew, and the Chinaman, and has himself taken a hand at opposition, quite as bitter and quite as ineffectual, against these later hordes. Wherever these have gone, they have crowded him out, possessing the block, the street, the ward with their denser swarms…..
The Irishman’s genius runs to public affairs rather than domestic life; wherever he is mustered in force, the saloon is the gorgeous center of political activity. The German struggles vainly to learn his trick; his Teutonic wit is too heavy, and the political ladder he raises from his saloon usually too short or too clumsy to reach the desired goal – Jacob Riis, from “How the Other Half Lives.”

The common voter in the USA does not know history. As a great majority of Americans are from the ethnicities listed above, they do not realize their own were once discriminated against. Again, humans are tribal so so perhaps it is natural they need a group to discriminate against. It is in their nature! Sure, the passions can subside but all it takes is for one demagogue (currently Trump) to whip those biases up again.

Being of Irish stock and a reverent celebrant of St. Patrick’s Day I was surprised to learn the low opinion of Irishmen in the past. I am well aware of the troubled history between Irish and English but was surprised to earn they were poor, unruly and greatly discriminated against in the USA. I was even more surprised reading an article in the SF Chronicle that the USA has made it very tough for the Irish to get working visas these days.

Jefferson’s ideas on migration have the opposite effect. That an American founding father and president would assert the arbitrariness of national borders and champion the right of individuals to live anywhere strikes many of us as deeply surprising….
But Jefferson was a lifelong proponent of what today is known as open borders. He scaffolded American independence on this principle, and as president he acted according to the view that any impediment to an individual’s mobility was a desecration of the American republic itself. – Stephanie DeGooyer, from “The Right to Leave.”

It is refreshing to learn that Jefferson held the same opinion as my own, although I see he acknowledged the importance of limiting immigration later on.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/