The xenophobic paranoia that demonizes undocumented immigrants as sub-human criminals and alien invaders who are somehow fulfilling a lifelong dream to flaunt American border laws out of disrespect, or as part of some strategic re-conquest of the west, so dominates U.S. media, it defies belief. The benefit — to what passes for immigration discourse in the States — of listening to the voices at this historic Mexico City conference of transnational migrant remitters, their families, and their advocates, will be profound when the American public opens its heart to the idea of sharing a common humanity with people of other cultures and nations, desperate with no other options to survive. During a participatory session entitled “Transnational Realities: A Critical Review of Impacts of Remittances on Families,” I was struck by the personal stories from various migrants and their family members that highlighted the human themes of love, fear, guilt, hope, courage, sacrifice, cultural identity, generational conflict, and the difficulties of living up to sometimes unrealistic expectations and pressures from those left behind. There was an honest complexity that participants agreed needed more airing even in migrants’ home countries. The psychological trauma of leaving your family behind in order to have any hope of providing them with a better life. The obliviousness of some pre-teen migrants to the hardships and exploitation that await them in the United States. A desire to shield family members during brief phone conversations from the harsh reality of irregular meals and mounting expenses. The parental desire to make up for lost time spent with children by purchasing material gifts. The emotional devastation of losing a child to the deadly border. The truth is — as Artemio Guerra of New York’s Fifth Avenue Committee put it so succinctly at the opening plenary – for so many who experience it, migration is not an easy, flippant decision and life. Rather, it is traumatically difficult “When you leave. When you cross. When you get there.” Immigrants are not callous, selfish criminals, America. Ironically enough, when you open your ears and minds to their voices and stories, it won’t be traumatically difficult for you to understand.
By Dom Apollon May 15, 2008