People flee their countries all the time. Whether it be a result of forcible displacement, persecution or violence, it is all too common for many to leave their homes in search of a better life. And one of the places where people wish to start anew is America. Speaking from experience, my parents left India when I was only six months old with the hope that they would find a better quality of life in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, “(t)oday, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants.” Taking in an additional 1 million new immigrants every year, there is no doubt — whatever the reason for their migration — that the U.S. has become a choice destination for people who wish to begin a new chapter in their lives.
This reputation for cosmopolitanism is what made a recent conversation with a friend so surprising. As she is on a pre-law track, when she shared with me that a career in politics was something she was considering, I wasn’t too surprised; what did leave me a bit speechless was the fact that her parents were completely against the notion. They aren’t against it because they don’t like politicians or because they don’t think she would make a lot of money, but rather because they’re fearful that if this country’s policies ever turned so firmly against her, she wouldn’t be able to leave if she was too ingrained in its political system. With 2019 marking a record high number of Americans wishing to leave the U.S., the recent judgments passed down by the Supreme Court and the general direction the country seems to be heading in, it is not a surprising sentiment. Even still, there are some reasons why I think she shouldn’t give up on the country just yet.
Looking first to the world of literature as a lens with which we view historical and future events, from Harper Lee’s (lesser known) novel “Go Set a Watchman” to Mira Jacob’s graphic novel “Good Talk”, a common lesson often emerges: In a tough situation, when your choices are to either to leave and let someone else deal with the issue or to stay and fight back against it yourself, you should always fight. In “Go Set a Watchman,” Scout is forced to confront her hometown and, especially, her father’s racist culture. Though her first instinct was to leave, she ends up staying in the hopes of making things better, maybe even becoming a voice of reason for the town. She knew the town’s views couldn’t be cured overnight, but at least she could help start that gradual change.
Similarly, in “Good Talk,” Jacobs describes her struggles with racism in 21st-century America. In particular, she puts a great deal of energy into dissecting her relationship with her in-laws. After the 2016 election, Jacobs’ in-laws came out as ‘Trumpies’ which led to Jacobs, her husband and their son having no contact with them for a couple of years. But instead of maintaining a distance forever, the book ends with Jacobs on a plane with her husband, traveling to visit his parents. By uttering the words, “I’m doing this for all of us,” Jacobs illustrates how her personal conflicts are relevant to all of us, especially groups of people who have to face similar people in their lives. Though Scout and Jacobs might not be able to cure all the world’s bigotry themselves, there are still ways they can fight back, and they do.
Outside of literature, there is no shortage of examples of people’s strength in fighting versus ‘flighting.’ Ranging from the civil rights movement to the battle for LGBTQ+ equality, it’s never been easy. But even still, most people weren’t scared away — I mean, the results of their efforts can be seen in our modern day world very clearly. Looking to the past, an entire war had to be fought before African Americans were given their freedom, and then it still took another century before they were able to get their voting rights protected through the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even to this day, that fight is not over as hundreds of African Americans are killed each year by police officers guided by unfair prejudices, redlined neighborhoods still exist and people are still physically attacked for the color of their skin. Though it may not be as overt as it once was, the systemic racism that still infects our institutions and society is as deadly as ever.
With such issues still very relevant, it is easy to lose hope in our country and what its future might look like. I know I have before. To be honest, I don’t even really have a rallying point, or some inspirational message for you. The only thing that brought me out of what was once a dark hole was seeing the strength of others, which is what I have tried to do here. It can be easy to simply give up and follow the words of pop icon Harry Styles and “leave America.” But at the end of the day, it is simple. All the people who paved the path before us, ranging from ordinary citizens to prominent leaders, did the best they could to leave the world a little better than it was before. So what excuse do we have to not try to do the same?
Palak Srivastava is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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