Author: Vicky

LivingNonviolence 2017-04-14 14:32:00

The U.S. is not a nation of immigrants
April 14, 2017
     The myth that the United States is a “nation of immigrants” feeds into the national self-image that the United States is both a free society and a land of opportunity. It is a seductive myth because we cherish the well-established fable of American exceptionalism, and the idea that this nation is “a city set upon a hill.” But the myth is more fiction than fact, and it hides a deeper and deeply unsettling truth about our nation’s past and present. We need to stop saying that we are a “nation of immigrants.” The following article explains why.
     The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first US citizenship act. It limited naturalization to free white citizens, thus excluding Native Americans, slaves, indentured servants, Asians and many others. During the following decades and centuries other naturalization laws were enacted, but it was not until 1924 that the Indian Citizenship Act was enacted. 
 Adam Goodman’s article, “A Nation of Immigrants,” which appeared in the October 8, 2015 issue of Dissent Magazine traces the nation of immigrants paradigm to the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century. Goodman says that the paradigm gave European immigrants a privileged place in US society, and allowed them to treat non-European immigrants as secondary actors, while ignoring Native Americans completely.
      The big change came in immigration policy came with the enactment of the 1965 Immigration Act. This Act ended the national-origins quota immigration system that had prevailed up until then, and created new opportunities for people from around the world to come to the United States. The number of immigrants as a percentage of the total population nearly tripled between 1970 and 2015, growing from less than five percent to nearly fourteen percent. The nation of immigrants mythology emerged during this period.
      Importantly, the “nation of immigrants” myth fed into the flawed “Bering Straits” theory of indigenous migration from Asia to the Americas some 12,000 years ago. Accordingly, Indians were the first immigrants. The Anglo settlers and others who came later were simply subsequent waves of immigrants coming in search of a better life. Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz debunked this “Bering Straits” theory. She argues that indigenous peoples were in the Americas at least 50,000 years before the English and other European settlers arrived. Recognition of this history is not permitted by the “nation of immigrants” myth. The plain truth is Native Peoples were dispossessed of their land.
      No president better embodies the federal government’s irregular warfare against Native Americans than Andrew Jackson. It is not reassuring that President Trump has moved a statue of Jackson into the Oval Office. In contrast to Jackson Era policies, the Indian Restoration Act of 1934 created a framework for a measure of Native American self-governance. But many issues remained unresolved. After World War II the federal government turned away from policies supporting Native Peoples and turned toward policies that it believed would lead to the elimination of Native Peoples.
       Congress adopted House Concurrent Resolution 108, the Termination Act, on August 1, 1953. The stated purpose of the Termination Act was “free those tribes listed from Federal supervision and control.” The termination policy meant that federal trust protection and transfer payments guaranteed by treaties and other agreements would end. That same year, 1953, Congress enacted Public Law 280, which transferred all tribal court jurisdiction to respective state courts. As a result of these acts of Congress, 109 tribes were terminated, approximately 2.5 million acres of Indian trust land was removed from protected status and sold to whites, 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal recognition, and tribal governments lost their right to govern. The termination policy was not ended until 1968. Tribes and individuals harmed by the termination policy have not been made whole for the loss they suffered or fully compensated for the damages caused by the government’s action.
      The myth that the United States is a “nation of immigrants” hides the history of our nation’s anti-Indianism while promoting the notion that this is a land of opportunity founded and built by immigrants. Since many Christian denominations have repudiated the doctrine of discovery they can now take the next step and renounce the nation of immigration myth. This will help clear the way to advance much needed conversations calling for respect of the almost 400 treaties that the United States has with Native nations, ensure protection of Native lands, lend support to the Native American drive for self-governance. 
      The United States is not a “nation of immigrants.” It is a settler nation trying to discover its identity  and redeem itself. 

Caring For Our Shared Household

By Michael Boover, guest blogger     March 31, 2017

Economics was once described by Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle as “the dismal science.” The term has taken on many shades of meaning since Carlyle first coined it in relation to the promulgation of slavery in the West Indies, a horror he supported in view of his philosophy that people are intrinsically unequal. Thomas Malthus upheld a similar outlook when, in his view, a growing population need be pitted against the fearful reality of limited resources. Lack of economic discipline from the top would surely yield a burgeoning population below that would then predictably outstrip food stores. Perpetual misery would be the result.

Paradoxical abstract economic thinkers like John Stuart Mill argued there was an intrinsic equality in people and that the need was for structural change, not slavery. Mill’s approach spelled disaster in Carlyle’s worldview wherein a financial elite need tenaciously hold the economic reins. When I first came across Carlyle’s descriptive, images of miserly accountants poring over multitudinous ledgers came to mind as did the deft, vivid portrayals of the economically deprived found in the novels of Charles Dickens. These images also have much to tell us about economics being viewed as a dreary discipline, as the sphere of the would-be depressed.

In contrast to Carlyle’s view, still lingering today in keeping states in dependence for the sake of economic growth of the strong, is the economic thought of the beloved Hindu mystic Mohandas Gandhi. His nonviolent actions on behalf of the Indian poor helped free them from the shackles of a religiously rigid caste system fortified by the corresponding ethos of British colonial rule. The Mahatma, much moved by his Hindu faith and much influenced by the life and teachings of Christ, asserted that “there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” This was the quite essential nonviolent economic salvo, the would-be pacific “shot heard around the world.” This Gandhian seed of envisioned equity, if planted and watered in welcome soil in the contemporary West, could instigate a restoration of economic health for those suffering from the affluence, self-interest, indulgence and indifference that have produced negative consequences for our own minorities at home and the subjugation of other peoples abroad. Much progress has been made but too little has substantially changed as to make 19th century scenes out of the Jamaican plantations or Dickens’ London completely things of the past. Who among us would care to take good note of these historical precedents and current realities and do something about them?

My dear late friend, Chuck Matthei, an American adherent of Gandhian economics, did. He taught how elegant, wondrous and exciting the science of economics could be if esteemed also as the art of mutually beneficial relationships, the fruit of which he predicted would be a more just and compassionate exchange of goods and services. Chuck came to this economic vocation very personally — his ancestors were slaveholders, but he, drawn to Judaism’s sense of justice, felt called to atone this misconduct. He got to work on civil rights, peace, anti-nuclear organizing, and proposing and pioneering new models of land tenure. He established loan funds for low-income people and projects and trusts for the protection of threatened agricultural lands. He opposed nuclear weapons and power with a Gandhian fast and encouraged fellow activists (myself included) to persevere in our work with and alongside the poor. Chuck possessed rare gifts of insight and persuasion that won over judges, dignitaries, even critics and opponents of his causes. A convert of sorts himself, Chuck grew expert in drawing others to their own entertainment of generous living in the light of Gandhi’s truth that means and ends are inextricably linked.

          How did Chuck become this gentle and yet uncompromising upholder of cherished principles? Chuck was influenced by the land-reverencing writings of Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry and the philosophical writings of Viktor Frankl. He was a dear friend of Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker movement. Like Frankl, he was motivated by interior conviction. And like Day, he bore social commitments that could not, in good conscience, be put aside. Chuck had the gift and chutzpah to cut through complex economic languages and activities that have generally tended to insulate financial elites from the influence of the non-professional and the needs of the indigent. Chuck grew to be a much needed and celebrated iconoclast, a highly skilled economist serving the economically wounded. Through his witness, a lesson we can learn from Chuck is how not to be so easily intimidated by the attention to minutiae that is part and parcel of economic life, but see there is a larger picture that has a rightful claim to our attention. Such a disposition could elicit the needed creativity and inventiveness to produce and sustain an economics of hopefulness.

   The root meaning of the word economics from the Greek oikonomia is the proper management of a household. It seems that since the first photographs of the Earth were taken and beamed back to us from outer space, we have had the opportunity to view this beautiful blue/green ball spinning around the sun as just as much a household as our personal domiciles. The Earth truly is our shared home, blessed by God and blessed by us too when all of us exercise good management skills! Yet most of us, understandably, prefer to relegate our role as householders of the planet to specialists, thus perhaps abdicating a role we were meant to assume in some form or other. Chuck would encourage us to live in a more blessed relation to our neighbors and indeed to all of creation if we would survive as a species and as a planet.

What if we acknowledged our larger roles as participants in exchanges of all sorts, coming to see for ourselves that economics really is about relationships as Chuck did? Are not all of us economists in fact? The recognition of such can potentially place us in a new context for solving problems thus helping to renew our interdependent lives and replenish the resources we necessarily depend on for our shared well-being. Might we more courageously take up bold initiatives in the direction of sustainability? Might we better honor the rabbinical saying that before each and every person there walks an angel proclaiming: “Make way, make way for the image of God” or adhere more closely to the Gospel mandate to treat “the least of these” as we would Christ himself? What if our economic lives were defined by our belief that we should defend the dignity of each human being by lovingly being each other’s economic keeper?

When my friend Chuck died, 500 friends and admirers showed up for his memorial service at the Roger Williams Church in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The editor of Sojourners Magazine, Jim Wallis, who published Chuck’s writings on economics, told the assembled that while Chuck never claimed to be a Christian, he knew no one more like Jesus than this man. 500 heads nodded in assent. It was quite a tribute to a man who took nonviolent economics very seriously. In his honor and for our own, might we do the same?

LivingNonviolence 2017-03-19 11:30:00

Friday  March 17, 2017
“Suffer the little children…”
Tomorrow morning,  my husband and I will  board the ferry to leave the island with 14 kids and 2 faculty members from our local high school.  By boat and bus and train we will make our way to Manhattan to participate in a Model UN conference.  Several thousand high school kids from various points on the planet will gather to learn in a simulated UN experience  – participating on committees, hearing position papers, drafting resolutions, making judicial decisions – – working together across language and cultural barriers to create solutions to real world problems.  Immigration issues will be among the topics they will work on.
            Meanwhile, this morning’s paper editorializes on the effort to “devise new forms of bureaucratic cruelty for immigrants. The latest policy proposal from the Department of Homeland Security would separate children from their parents at the Mexico-US border if they’re caught trying to enter the country illegally.”  (Boston Globe  “Border policy on kids harsh and ineffective” Tuesday March 14, 2017 p. A8).
            All too often, the morning news represents an  “Alice down the rabbit hole” kind of irrationality.  I have to shake my head in an effort to make sense of what I have just read.  Is this for real? I come from a Christian and Jewish background spiritually.  The revered texts of both traditions hold children as a sacred trust from the Holy One.  Hebrew texts admonish adults to teach the sacred law to their children – – and hold adherence to the law as the way to life.  Recognizing that this is always a choice, the texts also exhort the people to “choose life so that you and your children may live.”
            There is a  scenario in the Christian texts where some of Jesus’ own disciples try to keep children away from Jesus.  His stern rebuke rings in their ears: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  Even more pointed, Jesus teaches “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones……it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the sea.”   The  “little ones” – – young children – – perhaps just “innocent ones” – – perhaps any child or youth or adult who is defenseless against the power wielded against them.
            Even as this country continues to wrestle with what “family” means there are still some norms that remain in our collective consciousness.  One of them is the notion of the value of the family as a social construct that promotes the safety and well being of children.  Stable families tend to give children a stronger start in life.  And yet, there are policies in the making that would destabilize and destroy immigrant families.
            Currently, mothers with children who are caught at the southern border trying to enter this country, seeking asylum, are processed and released together.  The law states that minors cannot be held in detention.  The proposed new policy would separate mothers from their children.  Mothers would be sent to an adult detention center under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security to be processed while their children would be taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Settlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.  (Boston Globe Editorial March 14, 2017 p. A8).
           It is hard to imagine the pain and terror inflicted on families already suffering under the constant threat of violence – so much so that they choose to leave their homes to flee elsewhere. They come seeking safety only to discover that the nightmare continues when they reach the long sought border of the “land of the free” to be separated from one another and virtually imprisoned while strangers with power determine their fate.
            Perhaps Jesus’ words for this age might be  “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name is responsible for seeing to it that the child is safe in the arms of his/her parents and that the parents are welcome too.”  Perhaps he would say   “Get your act together and work this out in the most loving and compassionate way.”  And, of course, he might reiterate: “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones welcomes me.”
            The threat of the “millstone around the neck” was never literal – – but the weight of the  cruelty to children inherent in the proposed DHS policy ought to feel just that heavy on the neck of the powers that be.  Perhaps it might weigh heavily enough to warrant reconsideration;  perhaps heavily enough to warrant a turn in the direction of hospitality and compassion as attributes to be utilized when considering the fate of so many suffering members of the human family.
            Tomorrow we will begin a 4 day journey with 14 teenagers – children on their way to becoming adults.  We will witness them participating in a process that teaches their minds how to cooperate with others to solve problems.   We will watch as their budding consciousness is stimulated and shaped by their experience of seeing life from the perspective of their peers from around the world.   We will also learn more about how we need to protect and nurture the precious resource that the children of the world represent for the future of humanity.   For after all – we have it on great authority that  they are considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and that it is indeed to such as these that the reign of peace belongs.   The sacred texts do not discriminate across social and political boundaries.   They simply tell us that we must not fail the little ones entrusted to us.
Vicky Hanjian  March 17, 2017

LivingNonviolence 2017-03-10 14:50:00

It’s Time To Reclaim Our Highest Vision: Let’s Embrace The Great Turning      Across the nation, activists, organizers and newly enlivened social change onlookers are hungry for a shared, coherent sense of direction. George La…

A Stranger In The Kitchen

    Over the last twenty years or so, it has become the custom of the various congregations on our island to offer free hot meals to all comers during the winter months.  Currently, all seven days of the week are covered.  The meals vary from a fixed menu of lasagna and salad for lunch on Sundays to a chef catered dinner on Saturday evenings to a grand potluck on Wednesdays.  Our little congregation provides home made soup and casseroles and dessert on Tuesdays. 
            The suppers draw from a varied population.  Some folks are homeless.  Others are young families struggling to make ends meet.  Still others are alone and in need of the social contacts.  Many are seniors who don’t enjoy cooking for one person.  The one thing all the community suppers hold in common is that they are open, welcoming places for members of the community to gather throughout the gray winter months regardless of what draws them.
            Last Tuesday we served spaghetti with meat sauce and a salad augmented  by a corn chowder and a rice and bean casserole contributed by two of the guests.  Following the meal, the clean up has also become a community thing.   Guests bring their dishes to the kitchen.  Some volunteer to scrape.  Others to load the dishwasher.  Still others put the folding chairs away and store the tables until the next time.  Often a sense of joy and “family”  floods the atmosphere.
            After dinner one of the guests joined me in the kitchen, eager to scrape dishes for me to rinse prior to loading  them in the dishwasher.   A three day stubble, multiple layers of clothing, and a sweet uncertainty about whether he had a place at the table hinted at his possible life circumstances.  He remarked about his gratitude for a hot meal.  I told him I was happy that he had enjoyed it and that I was glad he had come.
He said he had traveled around a lot and eaten in a lot of places, but he had never felt  welcomed until he  decided to try out the community suppers.  He innocently marveled at how kind people were, and how they made him feel at home.  He said he didn’t always know that churches were places where he would be welcome, but he thought that there was something in the Bible about being kind to strangers.  I had to turn my attention to the dishwasher so he wouldn’t see tears welling up.
Over and over again the charge of our sacred texts is to welcome the stranger.  We are admonished over and over again: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)  Both the command and the rationale are given in the same sentence.  We have all been strangers at one point or another in our lives.  The importance of remembering what that feels like needs to be connected with our compassion for the stranger we meet at any moment. 
            Out of curiosity, I consulted Webster for the meaning of  the word “estrange.”    It means to remove from customary environment or associations; to arouse enmity or indifference where there had formerly been love, affection or friendliness. 
            So much of our global public discourse these days has to do with the question of “what to do with the stranger?”   Even on a small island with a relatively intact sense of community we cannot escape the challenges that come with stress-filled movements of  so many human beings who have literally been estranged – removed from their customary environments by war, persecution, hunger, threats of slavery , poverty, or homelessness – and now by increased rigor in enforcing immigration laws, and by the threat of deportation.   The less than compassionate response to the stranger is fear, indifference,  and increasingly, enmity.   We have become strangers who estrange others.

            The ancient text of Genesis tells us that the patriarch, Abraham, was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the heat of the day when three strangers approached him.  He offered them water, saw to it that their feet were washed and ordered that a feast be prepared for them.   There is a tradition that Abraham’s tent was open on all four sides so that a stranger would not have to search for the entrance in order to find hospitality.  The stranger was not to be feared and rejected, but welcomed and made to feel at home. 

            I had to reflect awhile on the meaning of the tears I felt welling up when I heard my new dish-washing partner wonder at how welcome he felt in our little church.  I wondered why he was surprised; wondered why he couldn’t just take it for granted that he would be welcomed in a church.  I don’t know where his travels have taken him or what he encountered along the way,  but it was clear to me that he had not always encountered hospitality from some of those most responsible for offering it freely. 
            I went to bed with a little prayer of gratitude.  Maybe it was only spaghetti with meat sauce, a bit of laughter and fellowship around the table, a little shared labor in the kitchen after dinner – – but at least we were doing something right.

Vicky Hanjian 

Fathers

I’m thinking about fathers. I just finished a short story by a writer who was disappointed by his father. His father was abusive and died young from too much alcohol. Years later, the son was contacted by one of his father’s war time buddies wanting to…