Humans need to journey. Feet moving left, right in a tandem stride balances the mind and invigorates the body. Ever since our ancestors stood upright and gazed over the tall grass of the African savannahs we have looked for places of safety, watering holes, shady outcrops and verdant hills of fruit-laden trees as destinations of succor and sustenance. We have created pathways of trodden grass, beaten bushes, and downed trees and, as we turned into purposeful communities, we encased our paths with rocks and made roads. When we reached water bodies, we paused and used reeds and wood to construct boats to propel us further along our way. We followed herds, sought warmer climes, traded goods and escaped droughts. We explored out of sheer curiosity and dreams of green abundance. In ebbs and flows we left Africa and populated the shores and distant lands of the entire planet.
We settled. We learned agriculture and formed communities. We regulated those communities through hierarchies and sovereigns. We bound our relationships and activities through the unspoken bonds of social contracts and we prescribed geographical boundaries to our allegiances. The natural affinities formed in families expanded to states, to nations…to races. We codified and concretized social and geographical boundaries. Our journies were aided by the harnessed power of steam and combustion. However, journeying became laborious because of boundaries…because of walls. What was once natural…migration, came up against powers vested in nations. When we left one place to travel to another we were labeled as immigrants. When we did it without the approval of the new state we were labeled an “illegal immigrant”. Migration was subject to criminalization. Some journeyers found themselves tossed outside the social boundaries of a prescribed community and become refugees.
Today in the United States we are facing a migration crisis that challenges the foundational values of the nation. In the past, the US would either naturalize or deport immigrants. “illegal immigrants” were reclassified by the compassionate as “undocumented” — their status was in limbo, awaiting inscription; they still had rights under the law of the land. But now there is talk of rescinding the rights of people who cross the border without documentation — to take away all of their human rights and force them into internment camps. This is dangerous talk.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism assesses the situation —
“The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, formulas which were designed to solve problems within given communities-but that they no longer belong to any community whatsoever. Their plight is not that they are not equal before the law. but that no law exists for them; not that they are oppressed but that nobody wants even to oppress them. Only in the last stage of a rather lengthy process is their right to live threatened; only if they remain perfectly “superfluous,” if nobody can be found to “claim” them, may their lives be in danger. Even the Nazis started their extermination of Jews by first depriving them of all legal status (the status of second-class citizenship) and cutting them off from the world of the living by herding them into ghettos and concentration camps; and before they set the gas chambers into motion, they had carefully tested the ground and found out to their satisfaction that no country would claim these people. The point is that a condition of complete rightlessness was created before the right to live was challenged.”
We must resist this effort to strip migrating people of all their rights…it will not end well, as history has shown. We must realize that all boundaries, physical and cultural are social constructions. We must have the wisdom and courage to transcend our conditioning to see the humanity in everyone, avoid tribal tendencies and respect people’s inalienable rights. This piece of wearable art by Sister Source in numerous strands of gunmetal grey with a turbulating base of contrasting beads is a contemplation on migrants that cross boundaries using highways, waterways, railways, and airways to make better lives for themselves and their families. May they find peace and compassion at their destinations.