2019

The immigration gene in the American DNA

Since he regally descended the escalator to announce his candidacy, immigration has been Donald Trump’s signature issue, propelling him to the presidency. In the time since, he has fomented anger and hostility among fawning acolytes by railing against “illegals,” which is code for immigrants of color, and has stoked the flame of resentment by encouraging and condoning violence against immigrants, telling them and native-born and naturalized citizens to “go back where you came from.”

But the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart might be the turning point, Trump’s Waterloo that leads to his Elba in that it has slain any pretense of moral leadership in his presidency.

The reason is that it strikes at what the majority intuitively grasps, but his fellow travelers conveniently ignore: Every American carries the immigrant gene in his/her cultural DNA. Without that chromosome, one simply cannot be American.

Legitimacy is essential in social and legal jurisprudence. Courts won’t allow a case to move forward unless the plaintiff(s) can prove standing. It’s the reason we disallow squatting and the reason one has a deed to his/her property—houses, vehicles—and renters sign leases. Each gives evidence of one’s legitimate—legal—right to claim ownership or to stay.

Being a member of the American family rests on the same principle of legitimacy, and it’s the immigrant chromosome in American DNA that provides legitimacy.

Everyone loves to point to his/her ancestors’ and perhaps his/her own immigrant experience(s) and tell their story: The nobility of his, her, or family’s struggle prior to leaving—fleeing—their homelands and finding opportunity here afterwards. Family legends and myths, some based on verifiable truth and others embellished, are based on struggles endured before, during, and after their journey to America. The mythos about their plights bolsters one’s legitimacy.

“Not only did my …?… get here by…?…, s/he worked…?… by …?…” Fill in the blanks with yours or your family’s story. Over 300 billion Americans; over 300 billion stories of noble struggle.

Thus, when Trump uses immigrants as piñatas—metaphor intentional—he strikes at the very essence of who we are as a people. And when he promotes violence that leads to something so heinous as twenty-plus innocents being gunned down because of their identity, it strikes not only at the heart but also at one’s sense of legitimacy and nobility. For in every immigrant, we see and hear our stories retold.

Smith Barney coined one of the great marketing lines: “We do it the old-fashioned way; we earn it.” While it’s a spurious claim for some of wealth—e.g., the Trumps—for most Americans, it rings true. Because in the telling of one’s story, there is a component of nobility. It makes one and his/her family heroic.

American is neither a race nor an ethnicity. It’s an identity, one with a story—history—that each of us became part of either through a personal act of volition or by a distant or not-so distant relative’s action. Thus, when a fraud like the POTUS spews antipathy that results in extreme violence, it strikes at the conscience of Americans with noble sensibility.

Readers nodding their heads get it; they recognize the immigrant chromosome in our DNA. It makes us family.

Being native-born is a happenstance of birth, so nothing special to take pride in. It’s what one does with his/her birthright, how one plays his/her role, that speaks of his/her character. Those whose hackles are raised by that point need to have an honest conversation with themselves about their Americanism, for in every American’s DNA, there is a boat ride or another heroic tale of adventure.

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