On Cultural Encounters and Tangents

By Maggie Choi

Illegal Immigration: Which Boat Are You In?

I wasn't planning to start off with such a controversial topic but people have asked where I stand on the issue of illegal immigrants, here goes:

Most of the American pioneers came to America out of need. They were poor, yet hard-workers, back in the “old country”. They wanted more out of life than just surviving and getting by. They knew they had dreams and potential that could not be fulfilled in the old country. Thus, We the people of the United States , in order to form a more perfect union,…...., sing of those founding fathers who braved the dangers, the hardships, the loneliness and persevered for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have Columbus Day off from school and have Columbus Day parades to celebrate the “discovery” of America . On this same day there are demonstrations by Native Americans, or “Indians”, as they are otherwise called. Nobody sent their ancestors a visa application for permission to come and live and work in their land. They view Columbus Day as a celebration of conquest and genocide of their people. The Europeans didn't bother asking for permission to come over. The “wannabe immigrants” probably figured (correctly) they'd be denied anyway. The Native Americans tried their best to deal with the inevitable mass migration of Europeans. They tried talks and treaties, (only to be betrayed). Many paid with their lives to preserve their land and their way of life. The Cherokee especially, made quite the concessions in assimilating to the English language, religion and culture only to be moved ((walking), along with other tribes) a thousand miles in winter to a new land. About 4000 died during this Trail of Tears.

Despite it's bloody past, I am thankful for the America that is today. I'm sorry for the pain and bloodshed that the people went through but it shaped the America that made me who I am. I could pass for the “all-American girl”. Raised in a small Oklahoma town, had decent grades, medaled in track, never got involved in drugs and alcohol. I held an after-school job since I was 14. Dad worked from sunup to sundown and now owns his own robust business, brand new house, healthy savings and doesn't owe a dime. Mom's a pillar of strength and heart of the home. They don't make them like her anymore. I went to the prom with my best guy friend and then off to State U. on full scholarships, later transferred to a private Christian university and worked my fingers to the bone (no more state scholarships). Graduated and certified in 3 areas. Yet, another part of who I am is: crossing the Rio Bravo illegally in ‘73 (my parents didn't bother applying for a visa. They figured (correctly) they'd be denied anyway since they didn't have more than a third-grade education and not a penny in the bank). My sisters and I hiding under the bed anytime a cropduster plane flew too low (Dad's first boss told us to do that because he said they were immigration authorities). Not being able to go to school the first semester until a nice Christian couple (Bob and Fern Scott of Kerrick, Texas ) convinced the boss that he wouldn't get in trouble for allowing illegals to go to school. I remember going with my mom to clean dad's boss' house once a week. She never got paid. Having to drive about 40 miles “over the river and through the woods to the cousins' house we go” because Dad didn't have a license to drive on the highway (no, we couldn't go into town either). “Church” was listening to the radio on Wednesdays to a Spanish evangelist (Pastor Galvan) and laying our hands on the radio during prayer time. Not having the freedom for 8 years to visit the relatives in Mexico . Yet my parents were very thankful. As hard as they've worked these 33 years in the U.S. they were working just as hard in Mexico but getting nowhere and in danger of starvation. I lost a baby sister, probably due to malnutrition. Dad lost 3 baby brothers. Grandma said there were women almost every day at the cemetery burying their babies. I remember seeing my father in the most ecstatic happiness three times: upon seeing his wife and children when he went to pick us up from the coyote (smuggler) in ‘73 (he had come 6 months before us), when the Scotts gave us our first very own Spanish Bible that same Christmas, (you should have seen him jumping around the room with joy with tears in his eyes) and in ‘81 when we all got our green cards.

So where do I stand? With the unsinkable Molly Brown of the Titanic (James Cameron movie version). The sea was littered with the drowning debris of humanity from the sinking ship. Most women and children were safely on the floating lifeboats but suffering while watching their beloved men dying. She said something like: “What's the matter with the bunch of ya? Can't you see those are your husbands, your brothers, your sons dying out there? We have room to fit a few more in!

They knew she was right but they also considered that if they went back to offer help to five drowning men fifty would swamp the boat and they'd all go down.

One of the crew spoke what they all were thinking, “Sit down and shut that hole in your face or I'll shut it for you!” And she knew they were right.

It was a no-win situation. There was no more right or wrong The wrong had already been done by the ship's watchmen.

I'm glad that my family and I were able to climb aboard the lifeboat and receive our American citizenship. I'm thankful for the people that welcomed us and gave us a helping hand. Especially to Camilla and, the late, Howard Strong. I know that the Anglo kids knew I was different but they didn't treat me beneath them. Many thanks, teachers and class of ‘86. We were welcomed by the people and that made me want to assimilate. Some years later more Hispanics started coming to the Panhandle. Many did not assimilate into the local culture (mostly because they tend to socialize with their own type and there were more of their type than when I was young) they called me a coconut because I'm brown on the outside and white on the inside.

The U.S. demographics, “they are a changing”. It's called “the browning of America ” due to more “brown” immigrants and their high birthrates. Economists haven't concurred either way on whether America would be better off financially with or without the illegal immigrants. Anti-immigration advocates claim that their stance is due to the financial future of America . I believe that the underlying motive is the loss of the previous culture of America . The culture that was is being swamped and dragged down until it is no more. It's been diluted by the many immigrants that brought their heavy culture aboard.

“What's the matter with the bunch of ya? Can't you see that those are hardworking, family-oriented people risking their lives to escape dire poverty and have a shot at the American dream?, says Maggie Velasquez-Choi.

And they knew she was right

“Shut up or we'll shut that hole in your face! Don't you realize that we'll soon be outnumbered? Our crime will increase. Our cities will be rundown. Our level of education will go down and our close-knit community will be frayed.

And she knew they were right.

There was no more right or wrong. The wrong had already been done by both nations' former government watchmen.