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It’s not a caravan

photo of central american migrants wading river
REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Caravans in the American mind are foreign to the Western Hemisphere or western culture.

Does anything seem strange about “caravan” as the word to describe the migrants now moving on foot toward the United States’ southern border? “Caravan” is the word used everywhere without a second thought.


Rev. Gordon C. Stewart

The etymology of the word “caravan” is Persian. Wiktionary gives this description: “From Middle French caravane, from Old French carvane, from Persian کاروان (kârvân), from Middle Persian kʾlwʾn’ (kārawān), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ker- (army) (whence Old English here). The word was used to designate a group of people who were travelling by camel or horse on the Silk Road.”

Language matters. Words matter. “Language: A Mechanism of Social Control” — Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC tutorial for political candidates — knows this better than most. Words like “caravan” have overtones and undertones. They allude to things that awaken hope or fear. There’s nothing like the warning of a caravan to awaken associations with Middle Easterners coming to our Southern border.

Have you ever heard of a Christian caravan? Or a Jewish caravan? Caravans in the American mind are foreign to the Western Hemisphere or western culture. Caravans belong to Persians (Iran) and the Arabs. No one fears a camel caravan! But we do remember the Crusades. We remember the waging of religious war between Christians and Muslims. We fear al-Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS).

The linguistic manipulators of language use such emotive allusions as weapons in election campaigns and underscore the words by sending U.S. Army troops to the border — to keep us safe — to beat back the barbarian Middle Eastern terrorists from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador now walking slowly several hundred miles from the border in hopes of a better life. They know fear works. They know that threats to our freedom and national security will take our imaginations back in time to Arabian desert nomads whose camels carried them — fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents — from here to there without settling anywhere. They know we will think of a caravan as an army, not a caravan of nomads.

Language matters. Words matter. Don’t let the dispatch of troops to the Mexican border and the language of social control make fools of those of us who have never met a camel or walked on bandaged feet with bloodied hands pushing broken baby strollers in hopes for a better life beyond the border. They’re Central and South Americans. It’s not a caravan!

Gordon C. Stewart, the retired pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, is a social commentator, writer and radio commentator. He is the author of “Be Still: Departure from Collective Madness.”


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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by ian wade on 11/08/2018 - 02:39 pm.

    It’s funny…the entire caravan story disappeared the day of the election. I wonder why?

  2. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/08/2018 - 05:36 pm.


    A group of travelers, as merchants or pilgrims, journeying together for safety in passing through deserts, hostile territory, etc. any group traveling in or as if in a caravan and using a specific mode of transportation, as pack animals or motor vehicles: a caravan of trucks; a camel caravan.

    Sounds like a group of travelers journeying together. The trucks giving a lift provide transportation.

    Note no reference to Middle Easterners in this dictionary definition. Apparently, words do indeed matter.

  3. Submitted by Alan Straka on 11/08/2018 - 05:36 pm.

    :Linguistic BS. The migrants in the groups moving north through Mexico describe themselves as in a caravan. Only the most warped minds would find caravan a pejorative term. If you wanted to demonize those people you would use a term like mob, horde, or pack.

  4. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/08/2018 - 06:58 pm.

    According to the dictionary, it actually is a caravan. The term is not foreign to the US …there’s a van named Caravan in the US.

  5. Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/09/2018 - 09:35 am.

    Its ok. The election over so this fake story of over too.

  6. Submitted by Joe Smith on 11/21/2018 - 12:04 pm.

    I see the citizens of Tijuana are calling it a caravan and demanding the folks in the caravan leave their city. Interesting, the caravan was really a caravan and is now on our border. With thousands more coming up, sponsored and paid for by the “no borders” crowd, I wonder if we should be worried now?

  7. Submitted by Joe Smith on 11/24/2018 - 03:21 pm.

    Watch Ami Horowitz’s short film on the caravan called “Fire in the Hole”. Decide then if it is women and children coming here or 18-40 year old men. Knowledge is power and putting your head in the sand won’t stop these caravans. It will take actual laws passed by Congress to protect our sovereignty.

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