I recently had a conversation with a young man, just turned 19, about politics and race, that turned some of my preconceived notions on their head – and not for the better.
This young man, whom I will call Alberto, was born in Central America, and became a naturalized citizen. His mother came to the United States illegally, as many have done, by crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. She found work and eventually opened her own business, married, and afterwards brought her young children to the U.S. from their grandmother’s home in Central America.
Now that Alberto has grown up in the United States, and he and his brothers have become naturalized citizens, he completely considers himself American. This is normal, as he has spent most of his life here, and the story of many immigrants that have come to America. I am sure that my own family members came to think of themselves as proud Americans, rather than Germans or Irishmen, or what other various countries my people came from. What I was not expecting was to hear that Alberto now actively disliked people from his home country, and was also disparaging of Mexican people.
The conversation lead to the infamous Trump wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and I was shocked to hear him say how in favor of the wall he was. I asked him if it even occurred to him that the border crossing his mother suffered through was what paved the way for him to ultimately become an American. He stared at me blankly. I know that he’s barely out of his teens, but it disturbed me that he had come to the conclusion, in a nutshell, that “I got mine, you go get yours”. He seemed to recognize the problems within his home country, but rather than have empathy for those still suffering, and feel for the people living in poverty in Mexico, he had become one of the privileged of America.
I don’t pretend to know the answer to the issue of illegal immigration into the country. In the current climate of rampant terrorism, I am naïve enough to believe that we can have open borders in the sense that anyone should be able to immigrate without thorough vetting. However, the fact remains that thousands stream into the country undocumented. Building a wall at great cost to Americans doesn’t make sense to me, as long as there are ladders and shovels in the world. Although I felt the need to mention this larger issue, it is not actually the crux of this discussion.
What surprised and dismayed me the most was the fact that a first-generation American was so willing to turn his back on his former countrymen. There could be some bad experiences playing into his feelings about his home country, but to consistently speak of all of his brethren as “them” in a disparaging way, and to go so far as to say that he hated the people of other countries was so very disappointing.
I was pleased to see that he and his brothers had fully embraced life as Americans, but to see this particular young man become so xenophobic, without appreciating the irony of his situation as newly one of “us” to be able to disparage “them”, was indeed eye-opening.