OPINION: UYLESS BLACK — Nationhood and immigration: Is it xenophobia or nostalgia?

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Several characteristics of a nation are essential if its society is to thrive as a functioning democracy. Two of these characteristics are the protection of its borders and its adherence to the rule of law. The absence of either of these cornerstones can result in a flawed republic.

Several months ago, I sent an email to some friends. They live in the Washington, D.C., area, my former home. It is an area populated principally by citizens of blue political persuasions.

I got along in Washington, D.C. I get along in North Idaho. While living in these two quite different political climates, I have found it was (is) helpful to look at another’s point of view. This approach has made me less strident, lowered my blood pressure, and resulted in less anxiety on the part of my wife and our dog.

This stance does not mean we should be a political Switzerland, swaying to whatever is convenient at the time. It means we simply, on occasion, try to look at others’ dissenting opinions from those of ours … a difficult task for our species in these times of political acrimony.

The email to my friends was about the fairly recent influx of a large number of Latinos into my childhood hometown, a small community in southeast New Mexico. The relatively sudden demographic change (over the past 25 years or so) has changed the cultural climate of the town and its countryside, a culture that had evolved for well over a century.

In my correspondence, I described two small, eclectic museums in the area. Both museums focus on the American cowboy and the cowboy’s influence on this part of America.

I wrote that the dominant Latino population, one that now outnumbers WASPs, was not flocking to these museums. Admittedly, like others who regret witnessing their former way of life pass away, I expressed regret to my friends. But I also offered this thought: Who could blame the new citizens?

Why should these recent arrivals care about the famous Lincoln County Wars that took place in a nearby county or a former World Champion calf roper who grew up near this town? The museums have no Mexican-related exhibits of Benito Juarez; not even one of Poncho Villa, who is an integral part of Southwest history and folklore. Why attend a museum to look at exhibits about strangers, many who helped dismantle (in the 19th century) the Mexican government’s presence in the area where I was born and reared?

A person usually visits a museum whose exhibits reinforce preconceived beliefs. A patriot tends toward attending the Daughters of the American Revolution exhibits. An anti-Semite usually avoids the Holocaust museum in D.C. A racist likely passes by the African American museum which opened recently on the National Mall.

The letter to my friends only expressed regret that I expected the American cowboy museums in my hometown would eventually close for lack of interest on the part of the local citizens. I expressed nothing negative about immigration, for which I have long been an advocate — as long as it is gradual and legal.

One of these friends, reflecting a close relationship going back 52 years and who knows my liberal views on immigration, responded that I was xenophobic! Granted, he is alt-left. In spite of this shortcoming, I still like him. Nonetheless, I was dumbfounded that a friend of such long duration would label me as a person who was afraid of foreigners, when the very opposite is the case.

Gradual and controlled immigration has long been one of the strengths of America. But as we know, illegal immigration has been going on for many decades. Estimates vary, but most studies cite between 12 million and 13 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Is that a significant number?

Mathematically, perhaps not, as the current population of the U.S. is approximately 360 million people. The illegal population represents less than 5 percent of America’s population.

Socially, ethically, and legally, it is significant. First, they are here in violation of our laws. Second, their presence is trampling on the rights of immigrants who are waiting in line to be admitted legally into our country. Third, do the illegal immigrants care about the first two points? Obviously not, as they violate our laws and ignore their fellow immigrants who are working within the system.

Earlier in my life, I worked in the poverty stricken environs of Watts, Calif. (Try this occupation: A wet-behind-the-ears white man attempting to collect overdue loan payments in a black man’s enclave.) A few years later, I spent time in poverty-stricken barrios in the Philippines. If I had been a Filipino, I would have been doing everything in my power to make it into the United States — legally or otherwise. (As well. to get out of Watts, the subject for another article.)

Which brings us to the present situation: Thousands of people coming from Central America are now at America’s door in the Mexican city of Tijuana. They have traveled hundreds of miles, leaving their homes — many of which are dangerous places and devoid of opportunity — to seek entry into America.

None of them were invited; none have the requisite paperwork. They came anyway, the subject of the second report in this series, to be published Friday.

• • •

Uyless Black is an author, researcher and frequent Press analyst and commentator. He and his wife, Holly, reside in Coeur d’Alene.

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