I asked 5th grade Chicano kids about Border Control & here’s what they had to say
Reading to Kids is a non profit that organizes reading clubs for underserved children all over Los Angeles, the second Saturday of every month. I found them on Volunteer Match and have been trying to regularly attend since the start of 2016. This month’s meeting saw a rather interesting turn of events that absolutely needs broadcasting so here goes!
My reading partner and I were assigned 5th graders and the book we were to read was A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen. The novel was about the Berlin Wall’s overnight appearance from the perspective of 8 year old Greta. Her father and brother go to the west in search of jobs and are supposed to return in 24 hours and now she wonders if she will ever see them again.
One of my favorite things about the book was how each chapter began with excellent quotes on courage and conquering fear. Sign me up for a dose of that every day please! All us volunteers made a mental note to add this one to our personal reading lists.
When we started to introduce the book to the kids and brought up The Wall, one child immediately chimed in ‘like the one Donald Trump is trying to build?’. This same child was also very anxious to know when the Wall came down (30 years but I was tempted to lie). I should probably mention that all 19 kids were Hispanic.
Back to the novel. Beautifully written as it was, the story was undeniably gritty and intense, rightfully slow in unraveling. Heavy for a bunch of kids who graduated to fifth grade technically yesterday. This meant lots of yawns and bathroom breaks.
We took a break from reading and I asked the group if they think borders should exist. An unequivocal ‘no’.
“Everyone should be allowed to go wherever they want?”
“Ok, so I’m Indian (*gasps all around*) . What if my people — all of them — or say a whole lot of people from China decide to come to America is that okay?”
Some unease but I hear “No.”
I prod “There’s no judgment in this room, if no just tell me why”
“They could be bad people”.
“Oh, so you mean they could bring in crime?”
“They could also bring diseases.”
One girl the only one who happened to have already read the book in entirety said “Well… they can come but they need to work to stay”.
A few murmurs in agreement.
“What if there’s something very bad going on in their country — like a war?”
“Then they should be allowed”
“No, they shouldn’t because what if we accidentally let in the bad guys (ones perpetrating the war)?”
We are usually supposed to conduct an activity (craft based) but I decided to introduce a game of human border.
Seven kids hold hands together and are the border that gets to decide who can enter the other side — land of unlimited tacos (their call), candy and rainbows. So technically the kids forming the border are ‘the government’. I emphasized to them that they had a lot of power.
The kids who formed the border took a lot of time to decide what their screening questions would be and just the act of discussing amongst themselves was a challenge. The other side of the border was pretty calm except for a few that were anxious to make it to the other side. One kid kept raising his hand and answering questions semi-correctly. The human border was particularly hard on this clearly panicking chap. Then there was the boy who preferred walking into a cabinet and staying there rather than participate in this madness. Nobody thought of going under anybody’s feet to get to the other side, just saying. I must mention that when someone did answer the questions right, the human border was pretty extravagant in their welcome — humming of victorious music and dramatic separation of their locked arms to let in the new ‘citizens’.
At the end of the game, a couple of girls from the human border revealed that being part of the deciding committee was tough. One of them complained about how the rest weren’t listening to her. This girl reminded me so much of ‘bossy’ 8 year old me. She’s going to do great things.
To me, this exercise was exhilarating beyond the usual rush of communicating and engaging with young minds. The honesty in their responses was heartening. I do feel that political correctness has made discourse near impossible and one of the shortcomings is how politics is introduced to kids. For instance, before we started the session, one popular idea was that we should talk about Hilter and the Nazis as the kids would surely know of him — ‘the crazy guy who killed a million people’.
For the record, I would never in a thousand years introduce Hilter like that.
I have a problem with referring to figures like Trump & Hitler as pure evil. By talking in such absolutes, morality and ethics are being placed over logic. And that should not be acceptable when studying history or forming an opinion in politics. I’ve noticed that on social media, which is unfortunately sometimes the only way millenials and younger (and I suspect lazy adults) keep in touch with current affairs, the anti Trump reasoning is cringeworthy. Because he has a bad hairdo, hates Mexicans, Muslims and women. That is the cheapest way of getting at him. In my opinion, every issue that Trump has a super flawed opinion on is in fact worthy of discussion. The issue. Why not destroy the man by arguing the issue at hand- pros/cons/solutions? Less slanderous attacks on Trump, more sound critiques on his views & policies in mainstream media, please.
Immigration is not black and white. And it is a gross folly on part of media publications to present it like that and for us to blindly perpetuate this. This issue is a prime example of the grey area inhabited by most problems in developed countries. The exercise with these children made me think of the the actual issue and the aggrandized, fear-fuelled media version of it.
Children as young as 10 are rightfully ambivalent when it comes to immigration. They may have Mexican roots but the bout of paranoia in responses to me confirmed their Americanness (lol)! All of their concerns were valid and I hope they all thought for a minute about how it is NOT EASY or straightforward to even have an opinion on immigration. All kids need is a nudge to see both sides of the situation and it is our duty as ‘adults’ to provide this.
I will conclude with my 2 cents on immigration. I am Indian but was born and raised in the Middle East. So my status from birth was NRI (non residential Indian). This is not a decision I made, it was made for me by my parents. I have strong roots in Dubai and in India (developed later, during my undergrad years) and I happen to hold very objective, impersonal views on expat life.
Immigration is not as emotional as it is often presented. It helps to look at it as a means of sustainability for people in countries that are saturated. ALL governments impose strict regulations and seldom make it easy to secure expat status and so, if you do the dance, I firmly believe you should be given the respect and resources to lead a fulfilling life in whichever country. Economically, culturally and emotionally, in the ideal case.
I can tell you that for me, my sense of belonging was not too attached to Dubai accepting me. My mother was very open and I remember being told even I was as young as 5 ‘Appa could lose his job anytime and we might have to go back to India’. This was one of the reasons why I could never stick posters on my room walls. It was not technically ‘our house’. What impact this kind of message had on me definitely deserves its own blogpost but it reared some spiritual benefits in not identifying home as a tangible place but as a feeling very, very early on.
I always say that the Middle East is straightforward in its policy to expats — you come here to work, earn as much as you can and at any time, you might have to up and leave. My father was lucky to have spent more than 25 years in Dubai so the childhood warnings I got thankfully never rang true. Assimilation is not the goal from day one. There is no culture you need to learn and accept if you are moving here with your family.
American immigration policy feels like a dangling carrot. You are lured in with this American dream that never becomes a full reality. It seems like even 2nd generation kids are never entirely assimilated. Korean American, Indian American, Colombian American — they all feel discriminated to an extent although they fiercely identify as American first and foremost. Dubai tells you to pls. hold on to your culture because you will never be one of us before you even take the flight over. The point is to work and not confuse yourself with this idea of becoming Emirati. America tells you that in return for the best years of your life, we will give you citizenship. You will belong. By all means, bring your culture but ensure it is Americanized.
Patriotism is a feeling and is the allegiance you have towards a country. It is also a highly overrated sentiment in my opinion. My childhood home, first day of school, all of that was in Dubai but India is my true love and the only country I can ever call the motherland. I often refer to Dubai as fatherland. If I continue to live in America for 3 more years, it would equal the number of years I have spent in India. And I can assure you, this country too will have (already has) a very special place in my heart.
Strip away the notion that home and belonging can only exist with one country. Being born and bred in a country shouldn’t be the indicator of authenticity. I have struggled with this all my life - ‘are you a real Indian’, ‘so you’re a Dubai citizen?’. These mentally imposed borders can be given the boot. Let us be more open to the concept of global citizens and the transient, migratory nature of life as acceptable and authentic. Seeking validation from a government that you are loved and accepted by the country sounds lovely but is unrealistic and unhealthy in the long run (as is any form of external validation).
This would be the first step in enabling a more broadminded view when discussing immigration.