Where have all the flowers gone? When will we ever learn?
I recently returned from Los Angeles where my grandson was born six weeks ago. I spent the first few weeks of his life there helping my daughter and caring for him. It broke my heart to leave him and return to Springfield, and I look forward to going back soon.
As I thought of my grandson I have been in tears watching the pictures this week of children who were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers to comply with this president’s policies and orders. They have reportedly been sent to remote detention centers across the country. And I realized we had yet to even see the pictures of the infants who were also taken away from their mothers. What if they need to be breast fed? How can a baby recover from this horror without serious health consequences?
I also thought of my wife’s family who, for no other reason than they were of Japanese descent even though they were born in America, were put into “detention” (concentration) camps 76 years ago, along with over 120,000 men, women and children – some of whom were immigrants trying to enter the United States, but most of whom were American citizens. My wife was born in one of those camps. I believe her family continues to this day to suffer the consequences of “internment.”
It has been universally agreed that the internment of Japanese-Americans was wrong, that it was actions of hysteria whipped up against “foreigners” who were portrayed as posing a threat to this country. So, as I read the news and listen carefully to the reports that our own government is building “detention centers” in remote areas of the country that could house approximately 100,000 immigrants trying to enter the United States, I am struck by the parallels between these events. And I ask myself again: When will we ever learn? How can this be happening in America?
I also think back to my mother’s family, who emigrated to the United States early in the 20th century to avoid the pogroms of death and destruction to Jews living in Russia and the Ukraine. You might remember Fiddler on the Roof? That story, and the story of many trying to come to the United States today, is the parallel story of my mother’s family – struggling to get into the United States to get away from repression and death in their native land. My mother was an infant at the time they tried to enter the United States. What if it was them, not refugees from South and Central America, who had been turned away from entering this country? What if my mother had been taken from the arms of her parents and put into a detention center, These “what ifs” lead me to ask again: When will we ever learn? How can this be happening in America?
I come away from all this with feelings of anger and despair. Friends share those feelings. The problem comes in translating those feelings into action. What can we do about these immoral, inhumane polices that are being carried out by our government? Sure, we can vote others into office, but is that enough? And what happens in the short term? How many lives are ruined? And what happens to the moral fabric of this country?
We must do everything we can to send a clear message to those in power that these actions are unacceptable. Otherwise, we will have learned nothing and will go down the path of being a human wasteland which, as in Nazi Germany, implicitly condoned these horrible policies through inaction.
Larry Golden is an emeritus professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at University of Illinois Springfield. His wife, Yosh, was born in Manzanar concentration camp in California during WW II.
One thing you can do
National Families Belong Together Rally, planned nationally by MoveOn.org and locally organized by Action Illinois, is scheduled for 11 a.m. this Saturday, June 30, at the Old State Capitol Plaza in Springfield. For further information, contact Springfieldimmigrant@gmail.com.