September 6th, 2017


On belonging

Apu is the manager of the Kwik-e-mart in Springfield, Homer Simpson's home town. He is a stereotype of the South Asian entrepreneur. The reason he's funny is that there are lots and lots of South Asian entrepreneurs operating gas stations and convenience stores just like his. And they are not just in big cities. I see them all over southern Indiana in small towns like Dillsboro.

I wonder about their journey to such places. How did they get started in this business? Are they owners or managers? Did other South Asians help them get set up? How did they come to settle in places like Dillsboro? Do they live locally? Have they faced any prejudice from long-time residents? What religion are they, and do they have a religious community nearby to attend? I'd like to know some of their stories, but I fear to offend by asking them.

I was in one of these gas stations/convenience stores recently, and the person at the counter was a young woman, maybe 18-25 years old. Her face and complexion were obviously South Asian, so I took her for the daughter of the owner/manager, or something like that. But her speech -- oh, my goodness. She spoke in a relaxed and natural manner, in a down-home southern Indiana accent. I don't know if she was born here, but she has certainly grown up here. The older generation of her family sound like Apu, but she's a native Hoosier.

This pleased me, in an odd way. It told me that she and her family have found a place here. And that's good. They are welcome. Community isn't about everybody being the same, except that we share our lives in this place. And it may be that this young woman hasn't found belonging easy. She may have felt different and out of place growing up in a southern Indiana town; others may have seen her as different and out of place and not been as welcoming as they should. She wouldn't have to be Asian for that to happen. As I said to a parishioner who immigrated from Germany to the little town of Spurgeon years ago, "Spurgeon ist ein Dorf, and Dörfer sind dasselbe* die Welt hinüber" (Spurgeon is a village, and villages are the same all over the world). All places can be difficult for a newcomer to enter, and small communities are particularly difficult, even if you are from the same regional or ethnic background. But this young woman has persevered, and the community has accepted her and her family as part of the whole, or at least it seems so to me.

This is a good thing. In many places, people draw apart from each other. There are invisible lines in many communities that people learn not to cross. Towns, neighborhoods, schools, even workplaces, become fractured into "us" and "them." You can see it in how people group when they're all in one place. In today's world, these invisible lines are often policed by those who see themselves as proponents of social justice, rather than as enforcers of ethnic or cultural purity, though it comes to the same thing; the anti-racists nowadays push segregation as much as the racists of yore did.

The goal ought to be to become comfortable with each other. To allow each of us to be as we are, while affirming our common belonging or purpose. To not have to walk on eggshells around each other. To be able to laugh about things together. To see differences as merely part of what makes each person interesting, instead of boundary markers that warn people against trespassing on some other group's psycho-social property.

Part of me wanted to say "welcome" to that young woman in the convenience store. But then, I was in her community, and it would have been more appropriate for her to say "welcome" to me, for she belonged there, and I was merely visiting.

*I should probably have said das Gleiche.

On the end of DACA

Those of us who believe in the rule of law are constantly accused by our lefty friends and colleagues that we are bigots, we have no compassion for those who came to this country as mere taglongs, etc. Two things need to be said to this.

First, most of the people I know don't dislike people who come from somewhere else, even if they know or suspect that they are here illegally. When we lived over by Cincinnati, Deanne worked in a factory in Fairfield, OH. There were lots of Mexicans working there, some of which were undoubtedly illegal aliens. On Fridays, one Hispanic worker would joke to others as they were leaving the job site, "Drive like you're legal!" Deanne got along with everybody, and they got along with her. There was no bigotry on display in the factory, even though several folk wondered how things continued in this manner without a visit from Immigration.

At the same time, I was pastoring a church near Guilford, IN. A couple who were members there, who wintered in Florida, spoke of their lawn-care person down there. Raul came from somewhere in the Caribbean or Mexico; they never learned just where. They liked him. The man said to him, "Raul, if you're not legal, then you need to do something to fix your immigration status. Is there anything we can do to help?" Raul just smiled.

A friend of mine is currently pastoring in an Indiana community where there are immigrants from all over the world. Some are apparently youth affected by the DACA program instituted by President Obama. She wants to see a path to citizenship for these young people, who are claimed and wanted and appreciated by their community.

So, this attitude of acceptance toward illegal aliens whom people know personally is the normal response of everybody I know. We get to know people, and we like them. We would like to help them. We are compassionate and friendly folks, not bigots.

But DACA is an unconstitutional and illegal usurpation of legislative authority by the former President. It is lawless, and lawlessness injures both citizen and immmigrant alike. It needs to end. Congress needs to do its job, and define the rules of immigration in ways that can be enforced. Then those rules need to be enforced for everybody. But what about the Dreamers, as they are called? Isn't it unfair to enforce consequences on them that they had nothing to do with bringing on themselves?

Maybe. Let's change the example, and see how you feel about it then. Let's talk about your Uncle Max. Uncle Max is an independent building contractor. He works hard. He does good work. He provides for his family, who live in a nice home. He takes his family to church. He belongs to a couple of community service organizations. He coaches youth sports. Max is a good guy, and everybody likes him.

That said, somewhere along the way, Max got out of the habit of filing tax returns. Now, he's not cheating on his taxes. He's not misrepresenting the truth of his income. He just failed to file one year, and discovered that the government was too busy to come after him, which made it easier to put off filing. Then he missed a second year. And still nobody enforced the law on him. So he just let it slide. Uncle Max hasn't filed a tax return in fifteen years.

That will now change, as the IRS has come for Uncle Max with a vengeance. He has hired a lawyer and a CPA, and hopes to whittle down some of the penalties (as well as stay out of jail); after all, he didn't do anything fraudulent. But it is certain that he's going to have to pay a whole lotta dough to the government. And after the IRS is done with him, the State of Indiana will have something to say to him, too. Max is probably going to lose most of his savings. He may lose his house. He's in a whole lot of trouble.

And his children share in that trouble, through no fault of their own. Their education and future are deeply affected by their father's tax troubles. The money that was supposed to be there for things now won't be. They may even have to move to a smaller house. All because somebody who was responsible for them broke the law. You may feel bad for your cousins, the children of Uncle Max. You may want to help them out -- and good for you if you do. But even though they are not responsible for Max's failure to follow the law, the consequences upon him are shared by them. And that's the way it is.

The goal of the IRS is not to ruin Max, but to bring him back into compliance with the law. And certainly, the goal of the IRS is not to ruin his children's opportunities, but the government cannot simply magic away the consequences to their lifestyle wrought by their father's lawlessness. The lawyer and CPA will work with the IRS, and if anything can be salvaged from the wreck, they'll do it. But it is to everybody's benefit when people follow the law -- and if they won't, that the law is upheld.

Back to immigration. The goal of everybody in this mess ought to be to bring people back into compliance with the law. We want a proper law, properly enforced. Given that, some leeway can be found for individual cases, since ruining people's lives is not what anybody wants. But at the root of this mess is the lawlessness of everybody concerned: the lawlessness of the original illegal immigrants, who brought or sent their children here, assuming or hoping to create facts on the ground that would prevent their ever being deported; the lawlessness of activists who have encouraged illegal immigration every way they could; the lawlessness of Democrats who want illegal immigration in order to groom future voters; the lawlessness of businesses who want illegal immigration for the steady supply of workers they can hire at low wages and who won't complain about it; the lawlessness of Republicans, who want to keep those businesses happy; and finally, the lawlessness of President Obama, who cynically decreed a program he originally (and correctly) said he didn't have the power to create.

Well, how about an amnesty? Ronald Reagan got suckered into that thirty years ago. Congress passed an amnesty bill with the promise of future enforcement, and we got -- more illegal immigration. More lawlessness. Which is why conservatives ever since have insisted that the law must be enforced. We hope that law can be enforced compassionately, but it must be enforced, at whatever cost.

I'm sorry for those who are caught in this mess, particularly for the young. But it is better for everybody -- including them -- for us to be a country of laws which are respected and enforced. Instead of blaming the current administration, or those of us who want the laws enforced, maybe they should blame all those who got them into this mess (q.v.).