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Social Justice, Intersections in Forms of Social Oppression, Bullying Prevention

Trump Administration’s Travel Ban Diminishes Us All

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Give us your rich, your white

Your Euro-Christian Corporate billionaires

No blacks, no browns, or Muslims, or the poor

For these my lamp is out for now and evermore.

Statue of Liberty since Trump’s Travel Ban

Walter Vale walks robotically and without apparent enthusiasm though his life as a Connecticut College economics professor. He shows little respect or tolerance for his students whom he has not given the syllabus well into the new semester for a course he has taught for the past 20 years.

When not at the college, he pretends to complete a book that he is not even close to finishing. He occasionally takes piano lessons in an effort to retain a part of his late wife who was a classical concert pianist and recording artist. He just fired his fifth teacher.

Charles, his department chair, requests that he present a paper at a conference at New York University since Walter’s coauthor is unable to attend. When Walter declined stating that he only gave nominal input into the paper while admitting that he had not even read the completed manuscript, Charles sternly insisted.

Walter reluctantly drove the relatively short distance, and upon entering his Manhattan apartment that he and his late wife maintained for decades, he noticed several unfamiliar objects. “Hello,” he called out with no audible response.

He opened the bathroom door to the terrifying screams of a young woman soaking naked in the tub. As he quickly turned around, a young man grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him violently against the wall.

“I live here. I live here. This is my apartment,” Walter tried to get out the words. The man reluctantly released him, and stated that an acquaintance sublet this apartment where he and his girlfriend have been living for the past two months. As tempers cooled, the young couple realized they had been swindled.

Tarek explained to Walter that he is an immigrant from Syria, a musician who performs on a Palestinian-Syrian drum known as a djembe, and Zainab is a Senegalese jewelry designer and street vendor. They both came to the United States for a better life, and they met and fell in love in New York City. Though they pack their belongings to leave, Walter decides to allow them to stay until they have time to ask Zainab’s sister if they can stay in her cramped apartment.

Over the next few days, Walter develops a friendship with the couple, whom he finds out entered the country undocumented. As they travel around Manhattan together, Walter sees the city again with fresh eyes through the excitement of his new young friends who showed him things he had never noticed before, cultures that were right in front of him.

Tarek taught Walter how to play the drum, and the two of them ventured to Central Park on various occasions to join an ongoing drum circle. While on the subway platform, Tarek tells Walter of his dream one day to perform there underground as travelers enter and leave the trains for their destinations. A sense of joy and youthful wonder returned to Walter’s spirit, something that had seemed to have died with the passing of his wife years before.

On their way back to the apartment from the park, Tarek’s drum case gets caught in the subway turnstile, and police arrest him mistakenly for attempting to enter without paying. They discover he had entered the country illegally, and incarcerate him at a detention facility in Queens for deportation back to Syria.

Feeling uncomfortable staying alone with Walter, and fearing the police may come for her as well, Zainab moves in with relatives in the Bronx. Walter hires an immigration lawyer to free Tarek.

After not being able to contact her son for some time, Tarek’s mother, Mouna, traveled from her home in Michigan and appeared at the apartment. Distressed by the news of Tarek’s arrest, she hesitatingly accepts Walter’s invitation to stay at the apartment while the legal process is underway.

Mouna and Walter soon develop a close friendship. She related her family’s difficult life in Syria where her journalist husband died while serving a long prison sentence for challenging the dictatorial regime in his writing. She is fearful for her son and for herself if they are deported since she also entered the United States without proper documentation.

They created a comfortable domestic relationship with Mouna cooking for Walter, and Walter treating Mouna to a night on the town at a Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera, a favorite of hers ever since Tarek sent his mother the cast recording.

Unfortunately, the lawyer’s efforts to keep Tarek in the U.S. failed, and without any notification, immigration officials deported him back to his native country. Now without any family remaining, Mouna decided to reunite with her son in Syria. During her final night in the United States, Mouna joined Walter in bed for a comforting and calming embrace.

The next day, Walter took his new friend to the airport. They shared a poignant moment before Mouna boarded the plane. Leaving the terminal, Walter entered the subway tunnel, took his drum from its case, and played on the platform as commuters traveled on their way.

As it turned out, the “Visitor” in the film’s title was Walter. Tarek, Mouna, and Zainab enriched, excited, enlivened, and reinvigorated Walter’s perspective on the world. They showed him his own country in ways he never could have imagined if left within his previously monocultural and monochromatic world.

Like Dorothy’s black-and-white Kansas landscape that changed to living color when she was transported to Oz, Walter’s new friends, through their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, gave him the means to transport his life from drab to beautiful Technicolor. In microcosm, they exemplified the life blood that brings sustaining and enhancing cultural nutrition to the U.S. body politic.

Like all organisms, nations will wither and die unless they continue expanding their perspectives on how they view this ever-changing world. The United States stands today as one of the most, possibly the most, innovative nations in the history of humankind only because of its sustained influx of innovative ideas and solutions to problems coming from its continuing immigration populations.

President Trump signed an executive order (Royal decree), which partially took effect recently, that bans entry of residents from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, and has suspended admittance of refugees from Syria. His actions pose not only Constitutional issues, but also position the United States across the world as a discriminatory nation acting contrary to its own ethical and moral standards by stigmatizing entire groups of people based on their country of origin and religious beliefs.

Politicians and most other residents of the United States alike, from every rung along the full political spectrum, generally agree on one issue: our immigration system is severely broken and needs fixing. Seemingly insurmountable gaps in political solutions to repair the system along with Congressional inaction to the point of blockage have brought the country to the point of crisis.

Though politicians and members of their constituencies argue immigration policy from seemingly infinite perspectives and sides, one point stands clear and definite: decisions as to who can enter this country and who can eventually gain citizenship status generally depends of issues of “race,” for U.S. immigration systems reflect and serve as the country’s official “racial” policies.

“Pluralism” comprises the philosophy whereby one adheres to a prevailing cultural norm in public while recognizing, retaining, and celebrating one’s distinctive and unique cultural traditions and practices in the private realm.

The term “Cultural Pluralism” was coined by Horace Kallen (1882-1974), a Jewish American of Polish and Latvian heritage who believed that ethnic groups have a “democratic right” to retain their cultures and to resist the “ruthless Americanization” being forced upon them by segments of the native white Anglo-Protestant population.

Social theorist Gunnar Myrdal traveled throughout the United States during the late 1940s examining U.S. society following World War II, and he discovered a grave contradiction or inconsistency, which he termed “an American dilemma.” He found a country founded on an overriding commitment to democracy, liberty, freedom, human dignity, and egalitarian values, coexisting alongside deep-seated patterns of racial discrimination, privileging white people, while subordinating peoples of color.

If we learn anything from our immigration legislative history, we can view the current debates as providing a great opportunity to pass comprehensive federal reform based not on “race,” nationality, ethnicity, religion, or other social identity categories, but rather, on humane principles of fairness, compassion, and equity.

While diversity of groups in any nation poses great challenges and great opportunities, the way we meet these challenges will determine whether we remain on the abyss of our history or whether we can truly achieve our promise of becoming a shining beacon to the world.

For my PowerPoint, Immigration as “Racial” Policy, press here.

The Visitor, 2007: writer and director, Tom McCarthy; producers, Michael London & Mary Jane Skalski; executive producers, Jeff Skoll & Omar Amanat; actors, Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale, Haaz Sleiman as Tarek, Danai Gurira as Zainab, Hiam Abass as Mouna, Michael Cumpsty as Charles.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 2nd, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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