An image keeps flashing through my mind in which our president is demanding that the bright and kind university students I teach in the U.S. stay on one side of a line, while the bright and kind university students I teach in Mexico stay on the other side. The line between the two groups is black electrical tape placed arbitrarily and unevenly across a classroom floor. The president, in this scenario, fosters a sense of insecurity and unease in the room through name calling, egocentric ranting, and deportation of some U.S. students to the other side of the room. His impulsive demands are enforced by a group of somewhat disoriented armed guards wearing riot gear.
This image is neither misplaced nor needlessly alarmist, since this could occur in real terms, based on what we are hearing from the current presidential administration. That large-scale deportations occurred during the previous presidential administration is without question. The rhetoric coming from the White House of late, though, has progressively heightened fears and fanned hatred at new levels, because the U.S. citizenry has been effectively invited to join a mob to dehumanize populations in both word and deed, while dehumanizing ourselves at the same time.
As a professor, I sometimes use case studies in order for students to synthesize the content we’re covering in the course. It’s often effective for students to work in small groups to analyze these cases so that they more completely and accurately define the problems, articulate potential solutions, and propose a coherent analysis and way ahead. In my ideal world, since I teach in the U.S. during the academic year and in Mexico during the summer, my students would to come together to analyze a case study in person, perhaps on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and perhaps the case study that is the daily barrage of headlines.
For years, I have traveled and worked in countries around the world where the streets and borders are militarized. You can feel it in your body when you walk down a street where on every corner there are men dressed in black uniforms and helmets and holding automatic weapons. It does not make one feel more secure. It promotes feelings of dread and impending doom.
Now, I hear our head of state describe our neighbors and other countries in the most callous terms, while giving permission for others to do the same, in order to justify this very approach. Those who adopt this sentiment and language are polluting our country and world in ways at least as lethal as greenhouse gases, because they are contaminating the minds of otherwise kind and hopeful people.
It would seem we have abandoned the notion of a debate about decent and humane immigration policies. And perhaps my protests are those of an idealistic professor whose feet are not planted on either side of the border. Yet, are we to plant our feet in quicksand?
A Mexican friend shared with me a quote from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: “Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep walking.”
“Para qué sirve la utopía? … sirve para caminar.” (What’s the point of utopia? … to keep walking.)
While reasonable people simply dismiss the expressions of violence – and make no mistake, the rhetoric is violent – it seems necessary to counter the toxic narratives in order to remind each other that there are young people listening. We guard our language with strangers when it comes to cursing, yet the floodgates are wide open with words that malign the human beings who live next door. And now, there is a proposal to militarize those floodgates.
The question remains: Will we all climb into boats to rise with the floodwaters and paddle toward utopia? Or will we inhale the water and pray for resuscitation on our side of the black electrical tape on the floor?
Kristi Rendahl is an assistant professor and director of the Nonprofit Leadership Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
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