The challenges we have faced recently regarding myself gaining a visa to live in the US with Jess seemed to stretch out for an age. Thankfully, the hard part is behind us now and we can start building on our lives together. Yet, as hard as it seemed, the difficulties pale in comparison to those endured by many others seeking to immigrate. The process encouraged me to reflect on the situations of people in less fortunate positions than ourselves and what may possess them to leave their home in search of a better life elsewhere. It also reaffirmed that as travelers too, we can provide insight to people back home who perhaps don’t see the whole picture.
Back home in Australia there is a certain bumper sticker which makes me cringe every time I see it. It is simply a map of the country with the words “F— Off, We’re Full” written below. I think it sums up the narrow and selfish outlook of some of my fellow countrymen. Without wanting to get into the debate of immigration laws, which continues to rage on and on, can’t they recognize what it must take for someone to jump on an atrociously overloaded and rickety old boat for countless kilometres of bumpy seas with only the faintest hope of reaching the mainland let alone being granted refugee status there? Of course, these sentiments aren’t confined only to Australia.
I think people are entitled to a sense of pride in their country and culture. Unfortunately though, I feel that much of the anti-immigration sentiment stems from the threat of loss of national identity that is perceived to be the result of an influx of foreigners. This isn’t necessarily the problem for me. What I find hard to take is the complete lack of compassion, the “go home, you don’t belong here” attitude.
What we can do. I think the best thing we can do is educate. As travelers, we have often ventured into poverty stricken nations, witnessed the desperate situations firsthand. I spent a year teaching in Honduras. It was unusual to speak to someone who actually wanted to stay in Honduras. These people had very little to look forward to. Unemployment soared, corruption was rife and poverty everywhere. It was difficult to see reasons why they wouldn’t want to leave. We can offer personal insights such as these and offer explanations as to why these people have chosen and will continue to choose to risk it all. Tell a story. Recommend a book. Or better still, inspire someone else to travel. Understanding is the key.
A couple of books that I would encourage everyone to read are What is the What by Dave Eggers and Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. Both are based on the lives of young men, the former from Sudan and the later from Honduras. The stories document the boy’s lives prior to their immigration attempts, as well as the arduous and extremely dangerous journeys they both took to finally arrive on US soil.
What is your take on immigration, both legal or illegal?