Xenophobia: The Fear of Other Humans

Illegal immigrant. Undocumented. Foreigner. Alien.

These are all words used to describe many people, Mexican Americans in particular, living in the United States today without proper documentation. Many Americans may say that such terms are too nice to describe such “criminals”, and shout more “fitting”, derogatory names at random darker skinned people they see on the street. They type angry Facebook rants about “what this country is coming to” and how all of these “José’s and Esperanza’s” need to go back to where they came from. They go to rallies and hold up signs that proudly proclaim their opposition to “job stealing imbeciles”, and nod understandingly as their Commander in Chief condemns all of the “bad hombres” in America.

To other Americans, these immigrants are their neighbors, classmates, and coworkers. They are a high school boy working the night shift at the local diner to save money for college, a single mother taking care of three children by herself, and a poor family of three trying to make ends meet while still sending money to family back home. These are all people who dream of stars and stripes and the American dream, not of corrupting society or stealing the jobs of those here before them.

And just in 2017, many actions were taken deliberately targeting the 11.3 million people who are undocumented, as the debate of illegal immigration was sparked especially bright by the 2016 Presidential election where the winning candidate spoke strongly about deporting such people in order to “Make American Great Again”. Such words have had enormous influence on people’s opinions about the matter, as they began to wonder why those people couldn’t simply come here the legal route like everyone else, or if they are the reason the economy is at a low.

But depending on an individual’s country of birth, wealth, and education level, legal immigration to the United States could take decades. Especially in countries where education is readily accessible or even an option to many families, the path to another country free from prominent violence or an abusive, unstable government is often filled with booby traps and sinkholes-meaning, it’s not easy. Here’s an eye-opening video about the different situations people may find themselves in in their home countries and their options for immigration.

History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it often rhymes

Xenophobia has manifested itself repeatedly over the course of the history of the US, and a great example is the mass hysteria over the Italian immigrants about 100 years ago. Those “sneaky Sicilians” were lynched at alarmingly high rates, and discriminated against and stereotyped much like how Mexican Americans are today. Moreover, these Italian immigrants, many undocumented, were a literal “phobia” to many Americans, as they feared that they would bring improper and gang-related ideas to their quaint, proper cul de sacs, in addition to stealing jobs that were rightfully not their own.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 were the harshest pieces of legislation directed towards anti-immigration, brought on by such hysteria. The former restricted new immigration to 3% of the number of residents per year from their country of origin already living in the United States, as determined by the 1910 census, while the latter basically abolished all hope for any Asian Americans for entering the US.

Today immigration is still as prevalent in the news as it used to be, but the 2018 midterm elections have proven that we are heading towards change. Xenophobia, racism, exclusivity — these are all being pushed aside as young voters are showing up to the polls to change what new lines are going to appear in America’s future. America’s 116th Congress is going to include some prominent firsts — and several governors’ races made history this midterm, too.The U.S. has ushered in its first Native American and Muslim congresswomen. Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first-ever black women to the House. Those who are different, those who come from immigrant families are finally taking their place on the stage of the country they have a say in to stick up for those who don’t.

Anti-immigration sentiment has also been apart of US History. Never mind the fact that the first “official Americans” took the land right out from under the Native Americans. Nationalism has done a lot to foster such sentiment, as citizens hone in on possession. We think that we’ve been here longerand we’ve worked here harder, which in turn makes this our land and nobody else’s. We are proud Americans-selfishly proud that we forget that immigrants, illegal or not, feel the same way, and that we are all working towards the same goal: happiness, and in some cases, simply safety. Instead of thinking as a nation, we need to consider ourselves citizens of the world. This world is full of people who need each other’s help. We are not all born into middle class homes in safe neighborhoods in a politically sound country. Despite our backgrounds, we are all human, need to realize the humanity in others alike.

My grandmother lives in Casablanca, Morocco, where she goes to the public baths every Sunday to chat with her friends and get some relief from the burning Sun. Sometimes, she told me, she sees these women and children outside the baths, begging for money to clean themselves. They are from Syrian, and most of them are not supposed to be there, but she always hands them some change and goes about her business, wondering how they got there from a country almost 3,000 miles away.

When looking for a home, distance is never an obstacle. It’s simply a step forward to new land, I think, and this is something I believe we should all take into consideration. America is our home that we should open up to others with as open arms as others had for us. Let’s not repeat history by fostering hatred against those in need, but by offering love and compassion to those fighting for a chance.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me”
-Emma Lazarus (1492)