This World We Live In

Not taken for granted: Documented

Last night I watched Jose Antonio Vargas’ film “Documented“.  In the event you have been living in a personal bubble the last few years or simply don’t follow current events Vargas is a Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist who in 2011 wrote a piece for the New York Times magazine in which he revealed a huge and deeply painful secret: he was brought to the United States as a child on false papers and has lived here ever since as a highly productive member of our society without the American credentials that signify membership in the American way.  He has no way to get into the process to get credentialed. He also can’t go back to his country of origin because it, honestly, is not his home.  He is an undocumented American. Pundits, talking heads, politicians, and a lot of regular folks on the street would say that he’s an illegal alien. I did, too, until I saw “Documented”.

I now know just how wrong I have been.


I work with people every day who are not of American origin and a large number of them are undocumented. It’s the nature of the beast in social services and I don’t see these women and children any differently than others. They are human beings, just as I am, deserving of kindness and respect. I just never really thought about their lives, their struggle, and what it is really like to live in a weird limbo as a person without a place to rest their head and feel at home on the deepest level. I was born here. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents were all born here. My Social Security card has always been a flimsy little annoyance that I can never seem to find when I need it. I’ve never worried when being pulled over by the police or when applying for a job. I get up every day knowing that I have a right to be here and that I can see my family anytime I want, no matter where in the world they might be. I get the luxury of being able to tack my family’s pre-American heritage onto myself and be proud of my German-Americanness because I don’t have to fight for the American part of the equation. I have security in my identity, but now I understand the gaping hole that exists in those who don’t have that security. I can’t personally imagine the hell that it is to live here, grow up here, be thoroughly American, but at the same time not have that precious piece of paper that says you belong here. Being undocumented must be like living in an endlessly emotionally abusive relationship, constantly rejected and invalidated in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, trapped in a perpetual tear-down cycle that you can’t get out of because you can’t go back to where you came from and you have trouble staying here.

I cannot imagine not seeing my mom, hugging my mom, getting to be in the same room with my mom for over twenty years and I recognize now that the undocumented are a lot stronger than I could ever be.

There needs to be something done to fix the immigration issue in this country. Why, exactly, do we as Americans think it’s okay to be rude, selfish jerks about our country? Many, many many Americans came here hundreds of years ago in much the same way as our contemporary immigrants (papered or otherwise) did: on an arduous journey to an unknown land clutching desperately to the hope that this new land would offer a chance for a better life. Our forebears came here for a slender, fragile chance. It’s the exact same thing as every present immigrant that comes to our shores. It isn’t about “mooching”. It’s about hope and that chance that maybe struggling in America will be a little bit better than struggling in Venezuela, Mexico, China, Germany, wherever. We’re all the children of undocumented immigrants on some level even if we choose to call them pioneers or Pilgrims or settlers. Why are we being so greedy? I know the answer and the solution won’t be simple, but there has to be a process. No jumps in line, but at least a way to get in line. There has to be a way to be a hope-giver instead of a dream-crusher. We tell the world to give us their huddled masses; we need to open our arms to them.

This morning when I got out of bed I rummaged around and found my Social Security card. I took a moment and held it in my hand, looking it over. One little piece of blue and white paper, but it’s really a golden ticket. I will never, ever take my citizenship for granted again and I hope that, someday, the millions of people here yearning to stand where I stand will have a chance as well.

Life, This World We Live In


The world is a strange, horrible, and hopeful place.

On Friday night, twenty-two-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree near UC Santa Barbara which resulted in the deaths of six and the inuring of seven others. The young man had posted videos to YouTube and participated elsewhere on the internet as an outlet for his highly misogynistic views. He had nothing nice to say about women and was very explicit about what he wanted to do with women–all women–because he felt that women had something against him. He said so in a video posted the day of the shooting.

I don’t want to give that man’s venemous thoughts or violent acts any more airtime than it deserves, but what is worth shining a light on is how the internet, that same place the troubled Rodger turned to spew hate, has turned the tragedy into a bold and brave moment of honesty–and has opened up a conversation about the uneasy subject of gender bias, violence, and discrimination in our culture.

It started Saturday night on Twitter in response to Rodger’s entitled comments about women. Women from all over the world began posting in profound 140 character blurbs marked with #YesAllWomen. The hashtag? A response to a recent internet meme where men complained that only a few guys were bad. The posts? Real-life, real-world stories of what women endure. The short stories began to flow rapidly and heartbreakingly, some simple musings on what the shootings revealed about society, some confessions of crimes done against them, some simple statements on how twisted the status quo is for women. A much-quoted one, and probably my favorite one from emily (@emilyhuges): “Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen”

It’s been amazing to see how so many women are chiming in with their stories. So many of the experiences are hauntingly familiar, something women on Twitter have noticed, leading to supportive comments, retweets, and in some cases open conversation about what we’ve all endured and how we’ve all lived our lives in the shadow of this subtle type of violence. Not all the response has been positive, however. As I followed the posts ever so often women would start posting about the occaisional “troll” that popped up in the conversation to mock, belittle, or even threaten women using the hastag. But for every hurtful reply there were a hundred positive ones as men started to come forward and join the conversation, trying to understand what it must be like to live in a world full of double standard and institutionalized oppression.

It’s Twitter, a place cluttered with what often amounts to idle boredom and sometimes the accidental start of rumors, a service where life is boiled down to a handful of characters. It’s the last place one would expect to find the silver lining in a moment of horrible violence and tragedy, but in the shadows of hate that is exactly what has happened: truth and understanding has begun pushing its way through the blackness to shed light, to spread light, and (hopefully) change things for the better.

Here’s to hoping that that’s what we take away from this horror, that women spoke up and the world changed. Here’s to hoping that #YesAllWomen is the change our world needs. Let’s learn with hope and let the monster fade away in the blackness of his own cowardice.

I choose hope.