The cartoon below is not meant to be funny and I apologize in advance if it seems so….
The conventional wisdom about the world today is that it is in decline, which is not surprising, given the 24/7 cycle of bad news all around us. ISIS, Bexit, climate change, political gridlock, Syria, Iraq, Boko Haram, asteroid strike… and on and on and on…..
I might seem smiley but I am not a generally optimistic and happy guy, deep within. But I don’t see the world quite the way as most folks today do. I don’t really buy the doom and gloom.
Don’t get me wrong – I understand how you feel. Heck, I read the same headlines you do. But what I generally disagree with is that problems facing the world are unsolvable and that we are all, in Joseph Heller’s words, ‘up shit creek, without a paddle’.
Take my country, Canada. When you think of Canada, the terms ‘boring’, ‘cold’, ‘funny accent’, ‘polite’, ‘grinning’, ‘happy’, ‘sorry’ immediately pop up in your mind. Sorry, but that’s how we Canadians today are.
Now, think of Canada and immigration. Right now that is the single issue that is tearing the world apart – immigration. Even compared to other immigrant-friendly countries, Canada is by far the most welcoming. Our foreign-born immigrant numbers per capita are seven times higher than the second nation in the list of top ten immigrant-friendly nations of the world.
Canada admitted ten times more Syrian refugees last year alone, than the US and the first planeload to land in Toronto was actually greeted by our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, personally. For an American President to do that would be considered sacrilege. And this year Canada is planning to take in even more.
Ask an ordinary Canadian what he likes about Canada the best and he’ll say it in just one word – multiculturism. While other developed nations are desperately attempting to keep immigrants out, putting in stricter controls, electing bigots and changing laws, we Canadians actually want even more of them in.
Here’s the thing though – Canada wasn’t always like this. Until the mid-1960s, Canada had an explicitly racist immigration policy. The Canadian establishment liked to call it ‘White Canada’ and it wasn’t the snow that they were referring to.
So, how did that Canada become this Canada that I, a brownie from India, love with all my heart and soul? The answer lies in not just virtue. I do not see white Canadians as having earlier been more virtuous than the white citizens of other nations, though now they certainly seem that way.
A number of factors dovetailed into each other to produce the Canada that you see today.
First, as the European nations got back on their feet and the proverbial lights came on once again, from London to Berlin to Paris to Rome (supported by the famous American reconstruction stimulus known as the Marshall Plan), the rush of immigrants leaving their homelands devastated by the great war, gradually went down to a trickle till the 1960s, when it ground to a halt altogether.
Canada, the world’s 2nd largest nation by landmass, 4th by natural wealth, with a population of only 18 million in 1965, was in dire need of hands on the deck. Immigration from other non-white nations became a necessity.
Then, in 1968, someone took over as Prime Minister, who transformed single-handedly that white Canada into this warm and fuzzy being that you see today – his name was Pierre Elliot Trudeau, father of our current Prime Minister, Justin.
Pierre Trudeau was very different from his predecessors. He was the first French Quebecois intellectual, in a polity that had long been dominated by English speaking PMs. He was kinda ‘groovy’ too. Very attractive, in that typically French way, he laughed easily and hung out with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Pierre and Justin Trudeau
Pierre was typically French in other, more illustrious ways, too. Charismatic and devastatingly handsome, his name was linked with models and film stars of all stripes, such as Barbara Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Catrall, Helen Mirren and Margot Kidder, to name just a few. In the words of Streisand..’ he projected the sense of a vulnerable little boy who lives trapped under layers of defenses and needs to be comforted. And we women are suckers for that…..”
But I’ll leave Pierre’s dalliances for another time.
What is relevant is that Trudeau pulled off one of the most progressive transformations of a nation that anyone anywhere had even seen. The first thing that Trudeau did was tear up the old race-based immigration rules and bring in new color-blind ones, giving due weightage to education, work experience and language skills, instead of race. That increased the odds that a new immigrant would hit the ground running and contribute to the economy from day-1.
The second and more important change Trudeau introduced was the phrase ‘multi-culturism’ and through his infinite charisma, single-handedly cajoled and coerced the establishment to see what he saw as the key to progress – diversity.
Very quickly, in the decades that followed, ordinary Canadians began to see the benefits that multi-culturism brought with it. I am proud to say that, after brief nonsensical interludes with conservatism ending with Stephen Harper, which failed us all, Canada is back being what it is at heart – liberal. The current PM, Justin Trudeau, is making his dad and all of us infinitely proud of being Canadian.
Less than 50kms south of where I live is a nation where immigration is a filthy word. In its place, the word that that nation’s white majority seems to embrace is its antonym – deportation. (Well, if not all whites in America, at least a percentage that is sizeable enough to have chosen a demagogue racist bigot like Donald Trump to run for election, giving him him a standing in the polls that is almost at par with his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Through the decades, America has packed off migrants back across the border in the south, several times and continues to do so even today, regardless of which political party is in power. There have also been mass deportations of hispanics, at least twice in the last century alone.
By the time Eisenhower became President in the late 1950s, America had prospered. But thousands of GIs were now back from Europe and the Pacific, besides a vast number of white Protestant Christian European immigrants who were fleeing the devastation in Europe, in search of prosperity. There just weren’t that many jobs going around.
America set in motion a plan to deport a million Hispanics south of the border, in a brutal operation that was reminiscent of the 18th century slave transports. It was a military operation that was insensitively code-named Operation Wetback. (The term ‘wetback’ was a derogatory reference to latinos in those days, originating from the fact that they swam across the Rio Grande to get into Texas and came ashore, bedraggled).
Beginning May 1954, Operation Wetback rounded up Mexicans who had overstayed their visas, crammed them inside trains and trucks and dumped them in the desert across the border. Unable to stand the heat, hundreds died of heat stroke and dehydration. Many among those deported were in fact natural born US citizens or children of US citizens, supposedly protected from deportation by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which follows commonly held bases for citizenship called ‘Jus Soli‘ (Latin: right of the soil), commonly referred to as birthright citizenship – the right of anyone born in the territory of a state, to nationality or citizenship and ‘Jus Sanguini‘ (Latin:right of citizenship, by blood).
By 1962, funding for the program had dried up. The US Government wound it down, terming it a ‘success’ and releasing a press statement that said, “The objectives of the program have been achieved and America is now illegals-free.”
Last Tuesday, the Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, while doubling down on his original mass deportation plan for the 11 million illegals in the US, referred glowingly to Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback, calling it ‘an unmitigated success’. “Eisenhower moved immigrants just beyond the border, but then they came back,” Trump glowered, before he went on, his lips curled in an insolent pout, ” He moved them again beyond the border and again they came back. He didn’t like it, so this time he moved them way south into the desert. They never came back,” Trump’s face at this point twisted into an appreciative snarl,” That’s Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier.”
Leave alone the law of the land, Operation Wetback was a tragic travesty of all that Christianity stands for, in an otherwise faith-crazy nation. Donald Trump however saw it as a success, just as the US Government said, five decades prior.
I have many relatives and friends south of the border who are Indian by birth, well established and productive American citizens. But sometimes I wonder if they are concerned for their long-term stability. Donald Trump might just be the symptom of a larger, longer-standing malaise inside American society, one that has always been there – frothing and festering just below the surface. Even up until 1938, most Jews in Germany were blissfully under the impression that ‘all this craziness will blow over’. ‘All this’ blew them away instead.
Not a day passes when I don’t thank my lucky stars we didn’t move to the US, even when that choice seemed like the more attractive one.
Is the American dream over? At least for you, if you are not a white Protestant Christian of European descent? Is it time for my friends to pack up and go home?
(to be continued…..)