Go alone or with a partner, but go. Make friends along the way. Enjoy the people and the places for what they are, not what you want them to be. Travel outside your comfort zones and you will extend your spheres of influence. Become a part of the places you visit and you will always be there, even when you return home.

Like the elk at the Yellowstone National Park visitor's center, we can only visit, nibble, leave our mark, and move on.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Itinerant's Itinerary:  Grand Teton National Park,Wyoming

     It has been a few weeks since I finished my motorcycle ride along the borderlands of southern Arizona.  It was a unique, exhilarating experience, and I am grateful to the Ted Simon Foundation for the opportunity to complete the ride.  The trip ended with a visit to the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, where I gave a short lecture about my travels along the border. There was a good crowd for the talk and overall I think it was well received. 
     However, after the lecture I was approached by several people from the audience, each of whom derided me for my opinions about my experiences.  Among the comments that are publishable, I was called ignorant and a carpetbagger, and was told that I had no right to come to Arizona and make judgements about immigration.  I was told that I couldn't possibly understand the immigration issues without living near the Arizona border for the last decade. One man, who was also a heckler during the lecture, told me with a straight face, that the worst part of Mexican immigration was that immigrants assimilated into the community and became part of society. 
     These encounters left me stunned and disappointed.  I told my wife, who had experienced these discussions in Flagstaff with me, that I had no taste for writing again about immigration in a toxic environment.  As is often the case, she disagreed strongly with that idea.  She encouraged me to write about my last experience. 
     If you have been following the posts I wrote, you may remember that I had remarked that I was traveling as a citizen in my own country.  And yet in Flagstaff I was accused of being an outsider, somehow not qualified to comment on my experiences in Arizona.
     The accusation of being an outsider reminded me of the famous response by Dr. Martin Luther King to a similar charge, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Dr. King was confined to the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama after being arrested for his part in non-violent protests against the racial segregation by Birmingham's city government and downtown retailers.   His letter was a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen who argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. They criticized Dr. King, calling him an “outsider” who caused trouble in the streets of Birmingham.  To this, Dr. King responded that all communities and states in the country were interrelated. He wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

     As I write these words I am visiting Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, fly fishing in the reflection of snow-capped mountains.  The temperatures in Wyoming, both literally and figuratively, are cooler than Arizona, perhaps allowing me the to reflect about my incident in Flagstaff.  "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  I am a white man with an Anglo surname carrying a valid U.S. passport, yet I was subjected to an unlawful search and seizure of my property in San Luis, Arizona.  I can only imagine what someone with brown skin, a Mexican surname, and a work visa encounters daily along the border.  In my own country, traveling public highways fifty miles north of the border, I was stopped and questioned at checkpoints by armed law enforcement agents.  Moreover, immigration concerns have bred a kind of ugly xenophobia in Arizona that I only briefly encountered in Flagstaff, and has spilled over into other areas of public policy.  How else can you explain that in the public school system of Tucson, where the student body is 60% Mexican-American, the Mexican-American studies program was terminated and its books banned and removed from the school libraries?  How else can you explain a state law than bans teachers with heavy accents from teaching English, despite the state having spent the last decade recruiting teachers for whom English was a second language?  How else do you explain, despite the heavy existing militarization of the border and the fact that illegal immigration is now at it's lowest rate in four decades, a state law creating and funding an additional volunteer armed militia to patrol the border for undocumented immigrants?  The extensive border fences and the militarization of the border have been paid for with my taxes as well those of the residents of Arizona (immigrant workers also pay taxes, by the way).  We have all paid for the right to voice an opinion. 
     Some of the laws enacted in Arizona in the last few years are arguably unjust and at least one will be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court will decide if the "show me your papers" law is constitutional, but it won't necessarily decide if it's just.   Dr. King defined it simply: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust... An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal."  Remember, in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of "separate but equal", an unjust law deemed legal that was finally overturned fifty years later in Brown v. Board of Education.
     I certainly don't regret or retract the things I have written or said about immigration.  The trip has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life and I wouldn't change a thing, including my encounter with critics in Flagstaff, however much I believe them to be mistaken.  In the end, demographics will prevail.  Minority babies outnumbered white newborns in 2011 for the first time in U.S. history, the latest milestone in a demographic shift that’s transforming the nation.  Mexicans are becoming U.S. citizens in record numbers.  Already four states in the U.S. - California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas - have majority-minority (?) populations.  Arizona and my own state of Florida will be transformed as well, demographically if not politically, and the transition of power may be difficult.  Along the way people of good will, regardless of whether they live in Arizona or Florida, or Wyoming, must continue the debate.  Don't take my word for it.  Go.  Go see for yourself.  Arizona needs tourists, since it has walled itself off, often frightening away visitors.    The border towns have suffered a significant loss in tourism revenue in the last 5 years.  Despite what the governor said, the Arizona desert is not littered with decapitated bodies.  Instead of going to Disney World, visit Nogales and walk across the border.  Visit the borderlands and see for yourself.  Make your own discovery ride.  We may end up disagreeing about immigration, but we both will have had a terrific time.
     In the meantime, back to the cool waters in Wyoming...

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