Within Our Souls

Last weekend, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-CA) attended a Tea Party rally in San Diego County, where he was asked by a man in the audience: "Would you support deportation of natural-born American citizens that are the children of illegal aliens?" To which Hunter responded:
I would have to, yes. … You can look and say, 'You're a mean guy. That's a mean thing to do. That's not a humanitarian thing to do.' We simply cannot afford what we're doing right now. We just can't afford it. California's going under. … We just can't afford it anymore. That's it. And we're not being mean. We're just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen. It's within our souls.
I daresay what the lily-white Rep. Hunter really meant was: "It's within our DNA."

Because, the truth is, if Republicans were interviewed to see exactly what qualities lay within the soul of a Real American, their idealized Civis Americanus—fearless, adventurous, independent, enterprising, entrepreneurial, optimistic, indomitable, visionary, and irrepressible—would look an awful lot like the undocumented immigrant who makes hir way across the border in search of a better life, risking deportation and detention and bodily harm to realize a dream arbitrarily denied on the accidental circumstances of one's birth.

Would that it took at least walking across the border to become an American citizen. We'd certainly have fewer citizens who used the gift of their unearned citizenry as a justification to behave like intolerant, isolationist wankers.

Instead, there is the usual collection of projectionist hypocrites caterwauling about the unique soul of the American citizen, whose own souls could not less resemble their ideal. There's nothing brave or innovative or hopeful or confident, nothing reflective of a fervent belief in freedom and autonomy, about xenophobic nationalism, about the promotion of personal avarice above social conscience, about contempt for the marginalized.

This country, a beautiful mosaic of people and cultures and ideas, still infused with a spirit of exploration and invention, really does have the potential to be a land of opportunity for everyone who arrives on its shores or crosses its borders, if we gave that notion half the chance it deserved.

But that chance is precisely the thing that people like Hunter endeavor to crush, turning America into a nation where anyone who does not look and sound and behave like its self-appointed True Patriots is de facto threatening, where the natural and philosophical resources are pillaged and destroyed in the acquisition of wealth, which is itself concentrated among only the most privileged, where philanthropy and empathy are relegated to little more than cute, clichéd memories, the habits of silly activists and dirty hippies, where the barrel-chested barons of a new Gilded Age stand astride the bodies of those who have been condemned to less fortunate fates, singing the praises of Social Darwinism and bellowing about the superfluity of a social safety net, declaring without a trace of irony, "The government never gave me anything!" as they deposit their million-dollar checks from their latest no-bid Defense Department contract then head off to Tiffany's to get The Little Woman a bauble with their fat tax returns.

They know only the soul of Corporate America. When the soul of their Ideal American Citizen stares them in the face, they suggest kicking it out of the country (but not before microchipping it first).

Within their own souls is not the expansive, courageous ideal they champion, but a profound insecurity born of the lazy complacency that unearned privilege breeds. They are anxious braggarts, waving the flag and shouting about how America is the "greatest country in the world!" at every opportunity—and then reacting with sullen resentment when people agree and clamor to get in the door.

Certain people, anyway.

My Scottish-born husband came to the US not because his life was dreadful or he was being persecuted or his family was starving or because he couldn't find work. He came on a fiancée visa (which speaks to our straight privilege as well as our class privilege) because he fell in love with an American citizen. And when we were flying over the ocean that once separated us, together, for the first time, clutching hands and chattering excitedly about the life on which we were about to embark, Iain talked about his vision of life in America—about its diversity and opportunity and generous supply of chances. It was, I imagine, a conversation not at all dissimilar to those had by undocumented immigrants making their way into the same country, who are different from Iain only by virtue of a piece of paper he held in his hand as he crossed the border.

That's it. Just a piece of paper.

Hunter and others like him would have us believe it's that piece of paper, or the lack thereof, that makes all the difference to them, but it is not that piece of paper at all which insulates Iain from hateful charges that he doesn't have the soul of a Real American. What insulates him is his DNA, and the privilege that he is afforded because of it, particularly in discussions that reduce "being American" to a matter of geography, law, and luck.

Being an American is more than that. Frequently, the people who weren't born here seem to understand that better than many of those who were.

They laugh and sniff and squirm and rage at the abiding belief shared by many Americans that this country is not "ours" to gift or deny to anyone who wants to share this space in good faith, and help make it better. They ignore any history that might suggest this land isn't "theirs." They not only draw lines along borders, but lines between citizens—the kind who belong here, and the kind who don't, because they didn't earn it, as if having been born here to citizens by a twist of fate is some sort of laudable achievement, but having been born here to non-citizens is some sort of scam.

And they talk about souls—whatever that means—as if souls don't reside inside one's humanity, which is neither contingent on nor contained by borders. Any American soul not firmly rooted in one's humanity isn't much of a soul at all; it's a selfish intellect disconnected from the commonality of humanness, whence the dehumanization of non-Americans begins.

I don't know if I have any kind of soul at all, no less a particularly American one. But if I do have an American soul, I can say this with certainty: Within my American soul is a love of this country, even despite its many flaws, so profound that I cannot imagine denying the chance to love it as much as I do to anyone who wanted it.

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