Thursday, September 6, 2007

Commentary: NAFTA Ten Years On . . .

Immigration/Deportation - What hatred? What Trail of Tears?
By JAMES W. POLK

Inheritors of Columbus, have we forgotten that the earth is round and "that which goes around, comes around?" Jacksonians, did we really believe that there would be no cost for forcing the ancient keepers of this land onto the Trail of Tears? Have we forgotten that all life is one and the misery we sow multiplies?

A century and a half ago, my kinsman, James K. Polk, dashed a line westward over timeless natural and human communities. "Go west, young man" to those lands of milk, honey and gold gleaming on the horizon.

We press on; under NAFTA's banner our products are freely traded across the Rio Grande. NAFTA is worth about as much to native peoples of Mexico as were earlier treaties with other tribes: indelible ink for provisions benefiting us, disappearing or red ink for all others.

NAFTA has shattered the capacity of native peoples to support their families and sustain village market economies. Before NAFTA, tribal ownership of lands was protected by the Mexican Constitution. Land was available for use by community members. NAFTA required that these lands be opened to agribusiness. Mexican farm families that sustained themselves on the land for millennia were forced onto the road. Husbands are driven into urban economies; women, children and elders wait in shrinking villages.

Entire regions are whiplashed mercilessly so corporations can grow quarterly profits. NAFTA has trapped the people in poverty and liberated their goods to go anywhere on earth. Their choice: watch your babies starve or join the "illegal aliens," vulnerable to a dangerous, frequently fatal crossing and then to the flip of a blue light signaling imminent deportation, separation from all relationships, income and possessions.

Where on earth did we think these millions would go? They turn not only to Mexican cities, but to ancient lands bearing native names like Arkansas and Tennessee, European-named places such as Columbia, Jackson and Nashville.

Their presence on our doorsteps challenges our core understandings of who we are. Our responses are conflicted, our moral/ethical compasses spin. Too often, we barely manage to recall our civility, much less engage our generosity toward these who offer a hand to roof our houses, build our roads, care for our children, and serve our tables.

This much is clear: we all share a common need for health, wholeness, and integrity in our relationship to the creation's fountain of life. Corrosive eruptions of hatred over the lives of predominantly native people are an affront to all who are grounded in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other path to compassionate living. This hatred is a threat to the fabric of our common unity.

Now we are on the receiving end of a Trail of Tears, threatening another. Are we still forgetting that the pain we send out into the world eventually flows back into our own hearts and lives? What kind of people will we choose to be this time around?

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