It still impacts my world view to this very day. It’s been over 25 years now. I was was about 22 years old and had just arrived at this place called Fort Drum, NY. They said it was the 10th Mountain Infantry Division but I didn’t see any damn mountains. What I saw was a lot of snow and being a boy from New Orleans I really wasn’t feeling all this “snow” shit. You can keep it. I had just graduated from Advanced Indidivial Training (AIT) with an MOS of 91 Bravo 10, a Medical Specialist (Combat Medic). I was assigned to the 210th Forward Support Battalion, Charlie Company, Ambulance Platoon. I was thin had all all my hair and was in the best shape of my life.You couldn’t tell me shit back then.
I hadn’t been at my unit more than a month before I started hearing rumblings about us getting deployed to a place called Somalia. The way I understood it at time was that we were going on a humanitarian mission. We were to provide logistical support to the combat units in the area and to secure transportation of food and medical supplies to the civilian population. There was a problem of bandits disrupting food distribution points and we were going to stop that. It was all very confusing to me, lots of briefings and SOP(Standard Operating Procedures) meetings. I though I was going to war and was very concerned that I might not make it back. There is a lot of false bravado among young men of a certain age. I heard a lot of my fellow soldiers say things like ” I can’t wait to shoot me a fucking Somali.” That description…A Fucking Somali… was thrown around a lot during that time. In every meeting and briefing the Somalians were not talked about as “people.” They were the objective, the enemy or otherwise some kind of obstacle to be navigated. Too many Rambo movies filled me and my fellow soldiers with a Hollywood version of deployment. We were going to go to Africa and kick some ass!
Then we arrived and I saw them. On the back of a 5 ton truck with about 12 soldiers armed with m16-A2 rifles what I saw wasn’t a bunch of fucking Somalis. What I saw were little boys and girls, men and women. The little boys I saw lining the streets of the villages we convoyed through looked just like the little boys and girls I knew and played with back at Lawrence D Crocker Elementary School. I had what some may called an epiphany, a moment of sudden revelation or insight. The ONLY difference between ME and THEM was purely accidental. I was lucky enough to be born in the United States and they were not. I was born in a place where clean water runs freely from indoor plumbing and food is so plentiful that you can actually be discriminating about what you find tasteful. Some of my fellow soldiers regarded the Somalian people with contempt. I thought back to the times when people looked at me, a black man, and judged me to be a criminal or otherwise up to no good. How can I in good conscience regard these people in a similar fashion because of a uniform.
Somalia was in my opinion the worse place I have ever been in my life. I could not wait to get out of there. It did however form the basis of my feelings on immigration. I and most people I know are Americans by accident,by birth…but they talk about it like they accomplished something. I had nothing to do with the fact that I’m an American.I didn’t take a test nor did I have to pass some rite of passage to be considered American. The reasons why most of us are citizens are based on decisions made long before any of us were born. So it comes across as a bit sanctimonious to me when we act all morally superior to people that want to come to the US. Ask yourself this, if you live in a place that was in your estimation a horrible place but just over the horizon was a place full of potential and opportunities would you not take it? Would you not risk everything to secure the blessings and freedoms for you and your family?
I understand that borders are important and must be secured. However the legacy of how those borders were originally obtained is one of genocide and inhumane treatment. We have no moral high ground to claim when we talk about our country. Native Americans were displaced( and murdered) and generations of enslaved people loss blood and life to build our nation. I believe that recognizing the common humanity of all people should be a guiding principle in our policy towards immigration. I think it is right and morally upstanding to let people in freely. Of course people should be vetted,we are after all nation of laws. However, I believe the default attitude should always lean towards welcome, not rejection. “Those” people are only “Those” people because of an accident of birth. “Those” people could just as easily be “You”. If it were you, I’m sure you want someone to have empathy and compassion on you.
It is disturbing to say the least that President Donald Trump shows no compassion or empathy to immigrants. He talks of building walls, deportations and blocks on immigration. The President is acting in a way that is completely contrary to the values we hold in high esteem as a nation. The Statue of Liberty has a placque that reads “Bring me your tired,your poor,your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these,the homeless,tempesttossed to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” If the President doesn’t uphold these ideals then we must insist he does. We are citizens, the most important and powerful position in our nation. I challenge myself and others to find out who our congressional representatives are( House and Senate) and demand they do what’s right by these people.
We can change this world but its going to take work and persistence. And most importantly it going to take voting. Let’s stop waiting for change and become the agent of change.