Of Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees

With the deportation machinery kicking into gear, I came across this passage from The Grapes of Wrath, whose author would have turned 115 a week ago today:

The cars of the migrant people crawled out of the side roads onto the great cross-country highway, and they took the migrant way to the West. . . .And because they were lonely and perplexed, because they had all come from a place of sadness and worry and defeat, and because they were all going to a mysterious new place . . . a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.

I thought of DeWitt Sage’s and my trip in Sept. 2105 to witness an even greater migration across Eastern Europe:

“Over there,” said DeWitt, pointing to lines of people walking along the railroad tracks a few hundred yards from the road. They carry their belongings in backpacks or plastic bags; some carry nothing at all. They keep coming and coming, groups of men, mostly young, families with small children – some walking, others being carried – and grandparents. Hungarian CampThey are heading to the last opening along the border, a rail line that crosses into Hungary, a country racing to erect a high 109-mile razor-wire fence, at the small town of Roske. Half a mile north, a temporary city of tents has been erected on farmland, and dozens of buses line the one-lane road.Hungarian Border

There are differences among the three migrations: Steinbeck’s Okies were Americans who crossed no national borders as they made their way to California; the refugees in Europe have fled unspeakable violence in dozens of lands across thousands of miles; and while the targets of Trump’s deportation orders are here illegally, many are long-settled members of their communities who have known no other life.

But they have at least these in common:

  • Okie, Deportee, Refugee are not terms of endearment for these people who have endured both physical hardship and cultural stigmatization to get where they are.
  • Often they are exploited for what they have to offer – their bodies for work – and then cast off when they are no longer useful.
  • You will not stop them. You can build a wall. You can expand the jails. You can dig mass graves. But you won’t stop them. As Yuval Noah Harari notes in his remarkable book, Sapiens, this is what humans do, what they have always done. It is how they settled the earth. You might pause to remember it is also how we got here.

We need to learn how to deal with the march of desperate people. Plan A isn’t working.

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.