Nation of Losers

I don’t want to be traveling right now.

I don’t think it’s ever been so hard to get a person to travel, especially a person so privileged to travel, a person who’s done it so much before. As my mom sardonically pitied me, “Don’t worry, Richard. You can handle this vacation.”

But I want to be home and I can’t imagine being anywhere else at the moment. Three weeks in California will do that to you, I suppose. But being on the plane filled with so much homesickness, after nearly 4 years living away, made me think: How’d I get so weak, so comfortable? I mean, how did my parents ever leave their home, their family?

Well, according to the president, it’s because it was a “shithole.” And to be fair, I have to attribute some of it to that: that despite being close to family and surrounded by their own culture, a lack of opportunity and barriers to social mobility made it difficult to imagine staying and getting anywhere. Historically, India’s agricultural productivity was low, and my dad lived on a farm, where my grandpa’s advice was to “get an education–and get out of agriculture.” Given India’s open defecation rate, one could say it literally is a shithole. (I mean no offense to my country of heritage, which is I think is a really cool place.)

Donald’s brainless policy implication was that we shouldn’t have to take in the “shitholers.” I suppose what was frustrating wasn’t that the president said it–though that had huge repercussions for international relations and the presidency–but that you could put any number of Americans in his chair and they would say the same thing. Haiti? Shithole. El Salvador? Shithole. Africa? (Geographically large) shithole.

But lost on him and everyone else is that people coming to America aren’t typically leaving good situations like Norway’s. To go way back, the Pilgrims left a religiously hostile environment; they weren’t the best England had to offer, they were, in Donald’s terminology, losers. Chinese in the 19th century fled the Taiping Rebellion, which killed about 20 to 30 million people (ya know, give or take). The Irish left in large numbers because of the potato famine. These are just the big examples.┬áMy dad decried the elitism in India that he couldn’t get past, no matter the education. It’s not that the supply of immigrants is because of our policies, but because the places they come from are not so great to stay in–and they tended to be on the losing side of conflicts, such as refugees from Vietnam. This is a reflection I had ten years ago; after going through my AP history class, I thought, Man, do we get all the losers?

Also lost in the president’s isolationism is that these are world events that the U.S. cannot escape, and is often involved in. Much of Africa was devastated by colonization and in the aftermath by greedy foreign powers. We take in a number of Afghan and Iraqi refugees because we invaded their countries. People fleeing violence in Central America were born in a region thrust into turmoil because of the Cold War. And again, Vietnam.

So I suppose I can’t blame myself too much for being attached to home. The conditions are hardly terrible. And it speaks to something about wanting to leave in the first place: Something must be truly intolerable. This nation has become so obsessed with winning that we’ve forgotten that nearly everyone here has started by being a loser. We’d be wise to remember that.

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