Looking at the border, finding hope amid heartache and cruelty

Viewpoint: 

The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

When Homewood resident and activist Emilia Oldaker saw the image of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria, drowned at the U.S.-Mexico border, she couldn’t help but to imagine the faces of those in her own Jewish family. People, that she says, know the look of fear and desperation all too well — and how its consequences can prove deadly.
 
“I have relatives who fled Nazi Germany, survived the death camps and watched their families get murdered. These kinds of things transcend race, religion, culture and heritage,” she says. “There is always going to be a system of power looking to dehumanize a race of people in order to remain powerful.”
 
Like so many Americans, Oldaker fears that history is repeating itself. 
 
“Within the nativist rhetoric and xenophobia, there are echoes of history. But immigrants and refugees are not scapegoats for the problems within America. These are people seeking the same things that many of our ancestors sought when they came to this country.”
 
Indeed, as President Trump resumes the idiosyncratic nativism and bottom-feeding that won him the 2016 election, xenophobic rhetoric remains at the beating heart of his base. Of course, this assumes that those chanting “Build the wall!” —update: “Send her back!” — at campaign rallies are anatomically fit with beating hearts. 
 
Still, just above the low-hanging-fruit of racism targeting immigrants, stands a more pertinent reality: the anti-Mexican rhetoric within Trump’s 2016 campaign was actually targeted at immigrants traveling through Mexico, largely from Central America. They aren’t even Mexican.
 
What is the significance of this distinction, you ask? Well, we cannot reasonably condemn the gang violence from which Central American refugees flee, without examining  the role U.S. immigration policy played in manifesting it.
 
Further still is the “alternative fact,” embraced as truth by Trump’s base, that the Mexican government is somehow culpable for the “bad hombres” invading our nation and raping our women.
 
The reality is, the Mexican government has been our reigning champion in the fight against ‘illegals.’ As trade deals and remittances incentivize the nation to stay in good U.S. graces, Mexico turns Central American refugees away at their borders by the hundreds of thousands. 
 
The truth has gotten lost in a whirlwind news cycle fueled by politics as partisan as they are petulant. And while those with the power to play puppeteer debate policy, families and children are left in a purgatory from which they bear scars that may never heal.
 
With U.S. Border Patrol officers accused of everything from serial murder to child sex abuse, the issue of U.S. immigration policy as it relates to human rights is just that — an issue of humanity. It is the wounded and weary, the human — and in the case of Oscar and little Valeria, the perished — that lie entangled at the center of historic gang wars, corruption, and an opportunistic Trump, who’s made prey out of vulnerable Americans, resentful enough to hate indiscriminately.
 
Indeed, it is not simply a political upset or lost election that is at stake. But the loss of life. The reality that a doe-eyed two-year-old, entangled in her father’s arms — limbs, that like those of most immigrants, had prayed, and fought and scoured the great expanse of murderous border towns for a safe place for his child — could be swept away by currents swollen with racism and heartlessness, is a burden that should feel too heavy for us to bear. 
 
Oldaker is a member of Action for a Better Tomorrow, a south suburban organization working to remind local residents that we are not powerless in the face of cruelty and lawlessness.
“We are the ones who have to be vocal, we are the ones that have to speak out when these injustices are happening,” said Oldaker, ABT’s secretary. “The question becomes: How can I, as a regular citizen, have an impact when these refugees are being treated inhumanely at the hands of my own government? This raises a lot of moral questions for all of us.”
 
Oldaker says she, along with other local activists, made a conscious decision to be more present; and credits the H-F community for making the transition a natural one.
 
“There was a point when we were all misinformed or complacent, and didn’t want to be that way anymore. We wanted to figure out what we could do in our community to be more impactful.

That’s the great thing about living in H-F: there are so many people, organizations and churches that talk about these issues, that are willing to organize. It does give you hope.”
 
At a moment when the high tide of history threatens to overtake us all, Oldaker seeks the existential wisdom of an earlier age. 
 
“Be the change you want to see in the world." — Gandhi.
 

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