Undocumented Immigration, Human Rights and White Privilege

I spent this week at a seminar entitled Exploring the Cultures of the Twin Cities, which focused on the Somali, Hmong, and Latino communities. In addition to learning a lot about the Somali and Hmong communities and the particular challenges they face in the US and in Minnesota, this seminar served to rekindle my strong feelings about immigration issues and hard borders. It’s something I used to think about quite a bit, but haven’t thought or talked about as much recently. I don’t know why, exactly. Anyway, in light of the seminar and also the immigration bill that just passed in the Senate, I thought I would share a bit about my feelings on immigration.

I’m not thrilled about the bill. A path to citizenship for those undocumented already here is great, and the provisions for low-skilled workers I think are a good start. But in my mind, though it’s a good start, it’s not enough, and of course the piece adding border control agents and extending the fence along the border definitely takes us in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Obviously I know that something more radical has no chance of passing, but my fear is that if this current bill was passed (which sounds unlikely), people would consider it “enough.” I don’t. In the interest of expediency and not reinventing the wheel when I wrote a perfectly good academic paper on this very issue just a few years ago, I’m including another paper I wrote in graduate school to explain my feelings on immigration. I will warn you that it’s pretty radical left-wing stuff, so this is probably going to rise some hackles, but it’s how I feel. Readers, of course, are free to take it or leave it.

Here’s the paper:

What Our Borders Really Protect:

Undocumented Immigration, Human Rights and White Privilege

Persons exist separately from any particular state;

persons, as such, are prior to states, and therefore human rights,

because they rest on humanness, exist prior to any rights afforded by states.

~Martha Scarpellino,

“‘Corriendo’: Hard Boundaries, Human Rights and the Undocumented Immigrant.”

International borders, as they stand in most of the world today, can be classified as hard boundaries. As defined by Loren Lomansky, hard boundaries are “demarcation[s] not easily traversable at will which function to confer substantial benefits or impose substantial costs on individuals by virtue of which side of the line they happen to find themselves on” (Scarpellino 332; emphasis mine). The division of the world’s landmasses according to hard boundaries, then, creates a situation where some people are born into poverty and others into wealth. Those born into poverty have very little chance of overcoming this system to make a good life for themselves and their families. Hard international boundaries are maintained for political and economic reasons that fail to address the inequality created by such boundaries. Soft boundaries, on the other hand, are “characterized by the lack of impediment to the flow of goods, capital and people” (Scarpellino 332). It is the end of this definition that renders soft boundaries much more desirable, from a human rights standpoint, than hard boundaries. According to the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, goods and capital are already allowed to move freely across the border between Mexico and the US, but people are not. This has created a situation where the “free movement” of cheap US food and products into Mexico and other Latin American countries has destroyed local farms and businesses, forcing large numbers of Latinos to cross the US-Mexico border illegally in order to find work in the United States. Using the US-Mexico border as a case study, I argue that such hard boundaries violate human rights and perpetuate white privilege.

Optimism vs Pessimism

Some people live their lives as pessimists, constantly expecting the worst so misfortune doesn’t sneak up and catch them unawares. The problem with this philosophy is that you can’t escape pain– everyone faces it at one time other another. But living in pessimism, while it may not exactly be painful, robs life of joy and replaces it with negativity. It pervades.

Pessimism is also the easy way out. It seeks to avoid or minimize pain instead of dealing with it. Optimism, while a more enjoyable state in which to live, is harder, because bad things do happen.

The key to optimism is resiliency. You have to be brave and strong, accept that bad things will happen to you, but believe that you have the power to overcome your pain.


I think I want to become a Quaker

I’m serious.

My spouse and I have been talking about finding a spiritual community, but I’ve been having a really hard time with it, because I’m currently agnostic and I have major problems with some basic tenants of (most) Christian churches. My spouse is a little bit more “traditionally” Christian than I’ve become, in that he believes in God and Jesus and Heaven (I think), but doesn’t take the Bible literally and also disagrees with a lot of the discrimination that many religions promote.

We were looking at going to a “church” that meets at the local high school, called Bloom Church, whose slogan is “No judging. No politics. Just Jesus.” They claim that “We’re not sure how you feel about God, how much you know about the Bible or whether we agree on everything spiritual. And that’s fine with us.” But then their beliefs statement sounds remarkably like most other Protestant churches:

In a nutshell, we believe that there is a God, one God, who created everything. He created us as humans in his image, which means we are like him in many ways, yet entirely different. The cool thing is, he longs for a relationship with us – the perfect joined with the imperfect – and to be present with us today.

That is remarkable love.

We believe humanity was separated from God by sin. But that didn’t stop God. He still longs to be with us. God sent his son Jesus to die a brutal death in our place to ultimately cancel our debt in full to God. Jesus said, “It is finished.” And we believe he meant it.

That is intense love.

God simply asks that we accept his love for us through his sacrifice in Jesus as a generous gift that we could do nothing to deserve. And that act of recognition, we believe, changes everything for eternity. It consummates the love story and makes it our own.

No wonder some kids are so bratty…

I really, really hate the commercial for Travelocity where the kid is running around an empty hotel swimming pool in a floaty toy because her dad “didn’t book with Travelocity, so no one told him the pool was under contstruction.” Yes, I’d be pissed if that happened to me, sure. But the next line in the commercial is “Quick, somebody get her a pony!” and that absolutely makes me physically nauseous. Yes, absolutely, great idea– teach our kids that they should get large, extravagant gifts when things don’t go their way.

Ironically, the kid in the commercial seems to be having a grand old time in the empty pool.

The holiday season in general gets me incensed about spoiled children and consumerism. Christmas carols coopted into jingles selling everything from toys to cars, ads showing people getting/giving over-the-top gifts like new cars, jewelry commercials implying that all women are interested in is gold and diamonds, toy ads aimed at kids so that they’ll beg their parents for all the new, expensive, and typically useless toys they see on TV…. it’s all disgusting. I’m *so* not letting my kids watch live TV…

Toys, Consumerism and the Disappearance of Imaginative Play

Last night I had a chat with one of my very good friends who is about 4 months’ pregnant. Without my saying anything on the topic, she brought up the too-many-toys thing, so I recommended a book that I’ve been reading, Simplicity Parenting, to her. This might seem a bit strange, since I’m not a parent and not even pregnant yet, but a lot of these concepts are things I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I just recently found this book recently that really resonates with me, and I am happy to find out that my friend shares some of these feelings. As long as I’m not infertile or something, our kids should be close to the same age, and it will be good for our kids to have friends whose parents feel similarly about some of these issues, especially since I’m sure they’ll also have friends whose parents DON’T fee the same way, which will probably be hard for the kids to understand.

Anyway, here are some quote from the book about too-many-toys and some other things. (I would just blog my feelings, but a lot of them are perfectly described in the book, and using quotes is easier than re-articulating he same ideas in my own words.  )

As a society, however, we’ve signed on wholeheartedly to the notion that more, bigger, newer and faster all mean better. We’ve done so as a survival mechanism. It is a very basic, primitive drive (albeit with its own particularly manic, modern, Western spin). At its most basic level it is understandable, thought it no longer serves its original purpose, and we’ve taken it to the point where it actually threatens, rather than ensures, our survival. (p11)

Why simplify? Over the years, I’ve come to see how a child’s quirks or tendencies can be exacerbated by cumulative stress, I’ve seen how children can slide along the spectrum from quirk to disorder when they experience high levels of stress. If I had a bit chalkboard, I would write it as this formula: q + s = d; or: quirk plus stress equals disorder. (p24)

This echoes a book I read for my Complex Systems course, that talked about psychological disorders being basically this: a quirk or personality trait amplified into a disorder.

Children’s play [has become] less focused on activities, and more on the things involved, the toys themselves. (p57)


Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about TV. This isn’t going to be an anti-TV rant… as much as I’d like to claim the opposite, I enjoy watching TV. My husband and I have many shows that we like to watch together: House, MD, Deadliest Catch, Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Parks and Rec, The Big Bang Theory, Entourage, True Blood, and now Game of Thrones. Additionally, I like to watch Law & Order: SVU (and sometimes CI) and reruns of Star Trek. That sounds like quite a lot, but luckily the HBO shows (Entourage, True Blood, and Game of Thrones) are on during different seasons, so that cuts it down a little bit. In an average week, I’d say that there are probably 5-6 hours’ worth of shows on that we want to watch. That’s under an hour a day; not too bad. We also might watch a movie on the weekend.

The problem, however, is that we have the TV on MUCH more than an hour a day and for a movie on the weekend. Many days, especially in the winter, we have the TV on from the time I get home from work (5ish, or 6:30ish if we go to the gym) until we go to bed around 10 or 10:30. On the weekends, when we are home and in the house, it’s pretty much on all day unless we are working on a specific project. Most of that time, the TV is on just to have it on; we’re watching reruns or movies on TV. Many times, there is nothing on we really want to watch, but still we watch TV.

I often feel that I don’t have time to do all the things I want to do—read more, practice my flute, sew, etc. But really, if we limited our TV viewing to things we actually want to watch—new episodes that we haven’t seen or occasionally a movie—we’d have so much more time! There have been many times when we’re sitting around, watching nothing, really, and I think, why don’t we just turn off the TV and read, for God’s sake! And yet, we don’t.

When I’m home alone, I sometimes do turn it off and read or even just sit in silence (imagine!) but really I am as guilty as my spouse. Many times when I get home from work, I am tired and don’t want to do anything but sit on the couch and watch TV. Of course it’s preferable if there’s something I actually want to watch on, but usually that’s not the case. Even if there’s nothing on, I’ll watch something, just because I want to veg. And that’s not good.

City Living

Someone asked me whey I like living in the city. It’s an interesting questions. We don’t go out to fancy restaurants or bars or anything very often, so it’s not really about going out on the town or anything. I don’t necessarily think the suburbs are boring, since I like doing things at home anyway. But I grew up in the suburbs, and a wealthy one at that. My family is definitely not as wealthy as many people in the area where my parents live and where I grew up, but even though we weren’t poor, either, my parents wouldn’t/couldn’t buy us all the latest trends, either. I’m glad they didn’t, and even growing up I never really wanted them to, but still I felt a great pressure to conform, to have all the hip clothes, etc. My mom made a lot of my clothes, and mostly I liked having unique, rather than trendy, things, but I did get teased a lot for it. Of course I know a lot of that is just school in general – I know city kids experience just as much peer pressure, but in the city there at least would be more kids whose families are not wealthy, so that maybe there wouldn’t be AS much pressure, and there’d probably be more kids whose parents were a bit “eccentric” (like me…), so perhaps kids would feel more free to be themselves and put less emphasis on conformity. I’d much rather have my kids grow up in that kind of environment than the one I grew up in. Sure, I liked having a yard and being safe, but the neighborhood we live in in the city is pretty safe, if you use common sense (which I think a lot of kids today are not being taught but definitely should be), and our yard isn’t huge, but we do have one, and there are parks nearby for playing.

I feel more free to be myself in the city, where are there are so many different types of people that I can find people who share my interests, or if I don’t, that’s okay – I can still do the things I enjoy and no one will give it a second thought. For me, being in the city is more about being myself and about diversity than about having lots of glamourous places to go and things to do. When we go out, we sometimes do the normal things like go to movies, but sometimes we can also do quirky, unusual things. Some examples of things I have done in the past: Klingon Christmas Carol, play vintage video games at the Chatterbox Pub, the British Advertising Awards screening at the Walker art museum, juggling shows, Zombie Pub Crawl, Circus Juventas youth circus, poetry slams, screenings of Doctor Who or Twin Peaks at local bars or theaters, cartoon brunch at the Suburban World theater, and we can also find lots of different kinds of world cuisine to try. I like trying different things, and that’s much easier in the city.

Unkind Radio DJs

Lately, the radio show I typically listen to on the way to work has been really cheesing me off.

It all started the other day. They have this bit where people can call in and the DJs will weigh in/ask listeners to weigh in on a problem the caller is having. So the other day, the caller’s problem was this:

She’d gone on a few dates with this guy, she really liked him, and the night before they’d been making out and heading in the direction of getting intimate for the first time. All of a sudden, the guy stopped and said he had to tell her something. The something he had to tell her was that he has a vestigial tail. She said even though she really liked this guy, the tail was a deal-breaker.

WTF? You really like someone and you can’t overlook the fact that they have a small (3-4 in.) vestigial tail? I think it’s sort of cool, actually! She could have at least given it a chance. But she sounded like a shallow b*itch anyway (incidentally, she had the same first name as me– that ticked me right off!). The thing that really got me is that the radio DJs were right behind her. “Oh yeah, that’s a total deal breaker” and making fun of the guy and everything. Granted, most people get those removed at birth, and one wonders why this guy’s parents didn’t have that done, but is it really THAT big of a deal? And what if the guy had been MISSING a limb, instead of having an extra one? Would they have still made fun of him? I don’t think so. UGH, shallow people!

So then the next day, they were doing “Treywalking” (like Leno’s Jaywalking) where their producer, Trey, finds a random person on the street and asks them questions. So the guy he picked the other day was an 18-year old, and when Trey asked him what he did for fun, he said he played the cello. The DJs were like, “Ohhh, a cellist, I don’t know how he’s going to be,” in a kind of derogatory way, implying that he’s obviously a total geek for playing the cello. He did get all the answers wrong, but they were all things about sports and pop culture– I would have gotten them all wrong too! The DJs were totally making fun of him the whole time, saying things like, “He’s terrible!” and “He’s a geek!” Are those things REALLY that important to know? I’d have been more concerned if he didn’t know the name of our president or something like that, but what pop star just announced that she’s divorcing her husband? Who TF cares?? Good for the kid if he has better things to do than listen to celebrity gossip.