We are talking about people. Suffering people. oppressed people. Oppressed by poverty, by repressive land owners, by corporate greed, by poor health care, and by an unresponsive government. North, they are told. North to a land of opportunity. A land where they will not be subjected to the fierce drudgery of poverty.
They have relatives who have escaped. Word comes back to them. Prosperity can be theirs. Economic prosperity, freedom, liberty, the right to pursue happiness. The discrimination will continue. They will continue to be persecuted. They will continue to be subjected to menial labor. Continue to be harassed by legal authorities. They will experience prejudice based on their stature, or color, or language skills. But freedom calls. Freedom to hope and dream. To hope and dream that one day they can bring their family out of the oppression.
The journey is dangerous. The journey is illegal. If they are caught there will be severe consequences. The journey of secrecy, through a dangerous and unforgiving environment, will require support. many will die on the journey. There will be armed patrols looking for them. They are told there is a network. A network of sympathizers who will help them. They will hide in basements of safe houses, travel by night, be passed off from the hands of one stranger to the next – hoping the stranger can be trusted.
When they arrive at their destination – somewhere up north, somewhere unknown to them – they hope to find shelter and work. They must be careful, if their identities are discovered, they will be captured and returned to the land of oppression. They will save their money – in hopes of procuring the freedom of loved ones left behind.
These words will sound familiar to any student of American history. We look back today with embarrassment that a whole people had to travel by an ‘underground railroad’ to find freedom from oppression.
They will gather in urban areas. Gather unto themselves, outcasts from the genteel society of third and fourth generation immigrants from Europe. There will be a sharing of thought, of talents, of sadness, of grief, of hopes and dreams – there will be a Hispanic Renaissance to rival that of the Harlem Renaissance. Poetry will be written, a musical revival will bless us, new authors writing legendary books of sadness and oppression will proliferate. The triumph of the story of American immigration cannot be held back. The bursting talents of humanity will not be shackled by ignorance and fear.
One day we Americans will study the tragedy of immigration. They will study the sadness of a whole people violated by higher values – selfishness and greed, fear and ignorance. They will study the Hispanic Renaissance. Future generations will rejoice in the blessings of human endeavor.
A little study of history would serve the leaders of this country very well. A little vision and hope for the future would serve all of us well.