Last night we went to dinner with some friends; came home and relaxed a bit and then headed for bed – a pretty normal Saturday evening for many folks in the United States.
Except, instead of immediately going to sleep, I lay in bed thinking about the stark contrast between my evening, and the thousands – tens of thousands – of people in airports throughout this country who thought they'd be getting off of a plane and doing something very similar. Instead, some of them were waiting to find out if they would be allowed to ever leave the airports, and others lawyers and protesters doing everything they could to ensure the travelers would be allowed to enter or in many cases return home.
And I wondered: If this keeps up, when will I become a target of the racism and xenophobia that underlays the current situation?
A friend tells me I'm over-reacting; there's no way I could be mistaken for anything other than a shiny, white U.S. citizen. But I'm not so sure.
Growing up, I was flattered when classmates asked if I was Native American. When I visited Mexico, I was amused when North Americans (Canadians and U.S. citizens) assumed I was Mexican; and Mexicans assumed I was Italian. I know that I'm primarily of Scandinavian and Eastern European descent, but like most multi-generational U.S. citizens, there are a few other ethnic genes in my pool and most likely Native American is one of them. For some reason those are a bit more dominant so my skin is slightly darker, and during the summer that coloration is even more pronounced. So, dark hair, dark skin ... definitely more likely to be mistaken for something other than European descent.
And apparently, those are the first things some people see when they look at me – so, if the United States continues down the path our new “leader” and his neo-Nazi advisor are setting for us, how long will it be before I'm one of those being detained?
Right now, I live far from the action, in a small town that's not too involved in the current immigration situation. And right now, only immigrants from certain countries and a certain religion are the targets. But, I keep wondering: How long before the net widens?
My friend doesn't see it happening here. I'm guessing most of the folks who live here don't see it happening here. That's always the problem, isn't it? We always think it will happen to someone else, if it happens at all.
It's hard to live here in this small, quiet, friendly western Oregon town and recognize at the same time that I'm safe and warm and well-fed, there are people sitting in airports around the world whose lives have just been turned up-side-down. It's hard to comprehend that there are people being shot at, starving, murdered, raped, or jailed just for being who they are – in every country in the world.
I understand why my friend thinks I'm over-reacting, but we all need to understand that what's right now happening to “others” could easily, tomorrow or the next day, be happening to each of us. We could just as easily be targeted for one or two specific characteristics that make us different from another group.
So, what will they do if it does happen here? What if that executive order is expanded to include other races, and other nationalities or left-handed people; people with green eyes; or people with mental or physical disabilities? Because, I'm pretty sure that if we don't speak out loud and strong now that's exactly what will happen. And that does worry me, because every time I look in the mirror, I see someone who could easily be part of the next targeted group.