Other than the odd post with alternate art cards, I’ve been notably silent these days. More than the typical “life is busy” refrain, this stems from a certain unease with events outside of the game. “Real life”, so to speak, has intruded into the life of my hobbies. It is fair to say that US politics have changed rather dramatically in the last several months. Like most seemingly radical changes, it is probably more accurate to say that things have been changing for quite some time but it took a singular moment for many Americans (myself included) to finally notice this shift.
It’s best to acknowledge up front that I am delving into the dangerous realm of politics. This blog is about a game, which I play as part of my hobby, and many readers and fans of the game play specifically to escape from the drudgery and ugliness of “real life”. I too live with this bifurcation between the outside world and the world of my hobbies. This has been a comfortable fiction, but a fiction nonetheless, and one which no longer serves its purpose. For those who only want to read articles about the game, and see pretty pictures of alternate art cards, I recommend you skip this article. For those who are curious about what has been going on in the life of the author, read on.
About a month ago, I posted a deck to RingsDB called “Middle-earth, Without Immigrants”. This was my first attempt to break down these self-imposed barriers between games and my everyday life. The primary intent of that deck, beyond pointing out the irony of anti-immigrant rhetoric, was to start a conversation about how abstract political agendas have a very real impact on people’s lives. This fine community of players did not disappoint me, and the comment thread of that deck evolved into an interesting discussion. Contributors added their voices in support and provided unique viewpoints on the issue. I ended up sharing part of my wife’s immigrant story in one of the comments, but I’ve decided that it deserves its own place here. I’ve used this blog to make announcements of my achievements, to share the sadness of my loss, and to revel in the fraternity of community, so it feels appropriate to share about what is affecting my life most in the last several months. What follows is an excerpt of the story which I first shared in that comment.
One of the reasons why America is great is because we have welcomed wave after wave of immigrants. I do not see this as a controversial statement, and if you disagree, I challenge you to go back through our 240 year history and try to make that case. The anti-immigrant sentiments that are de rigueur are by no means new. The same terrible lies were made about (among others): Germans, Italians, Polish, Irish, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc. – this list goes back to the first two tribes of human beings. They were xenophobic lies then, and they are xenophobic lies now.
I make this argument not as some abstract part of a political platform to which I hold blind allegiance. I say this because it is something which I know intuitively to be right and just and decent. I also happen to have seen the effects of this anti-immigration propaganda in the lives of my loved ones.
My wife immigrated to the United from Mexico only 10 years ago. Her father was a powerful man in Mexico, but he refused to submit to the will of the Cartels. They threatened to kill his family, and rather than give in to corruption, he and his family fled to the United States.
If we want to be technical about labels, they really should have been called refugees, but as Mexicans the United States government has an official position of treating them (at best) with suspicion and (at worst) with outright disrespect. Overnight, her father went from being in a position of power in the second largest state of Mexico, to cleaning toilets in office buildings. His youngest daughter, my wife, went from studying for a law degree to working two jobs at minimum wage to help support her family. I strongly suspect that those who say things like “immigrants are stealing our jobs” or “immigrants are lazy” have never taken the time to get to know an immigrant. Ignorance is so often the breeding ground for erroneous notions. Meeting people who are different from us is like the sun, it drives away all shadows of fear and mistrust.
The fact that her family does not all still work minimum wage jobs is a living testament to the American dream. They worked hard, and they earned a better life for themselves and their children. That is all any of us can aspire to. My wife is a permanent resident, but as a Mexican the process has been long and expensive. Talking to friends with spouses who immigrated from Europe, I am appalled. The process for a Mexican, without a criminal record and with job skills, is so much harder than for someone from Europe who is otherwise in a similar situation. I struggle to find any explanation for this difference other than bigotry. There has been talk of even trying to deport permanent residents if they hail from Mexico or certain Middle-Eastern countries. This would be America breaking her word to those who need her freedoms most.
With that story as background, one can imagine the fear and uncertainty at Casa De Beorn with the vitriolic rhetoric issuing from the Federal Government after the recent election. Unfortunately, this fear-mongering has not been limited to the corrupt officials who live in oblivious detachment in our nation’s capital. Here in Texas, state politicians recently passed a bill which allows any law enforcement officer to act as a “liason” for an Immigration and Customs official. What this means is that a police officer can pull someone over for a traffic violation and then, if they deem fit, ask them for proof of citizenship. To some, this seems like a reasonable law. The argument goes: “this only hurts illegals, and they don’t deserve to be here anyway”. This is the perfect real world example of the law of unintended consequences. How do you suppose, is an officer to determine who is and is not in this country legally?
As someone born here and who has only ever lived here, I have never carried proof of my citizenship on my person. I carry a driver’s license, but this in no way proves that I am a citizen. The fact of the matter is, no police officer is ever going to ask me if I am in the country legally. They will take one look at the color of my skin, they will hear the way that I speak English, and they will decide that I am allowed to be here. On the other hand, they will look at my wife’s dark skin, they will hear the thick accent with which she speaks English, and they will suspect that she does not deserve to live here legally.
My wife is a legal permanent resident. She now has to carry proof of this with her at all times, or risk being sent to a deportation facility at the border. According to the law of the land, I could come home from work one day to find that my wife is detained 100 miles away and that without my intervention she could be taken away. A simple mistake like leaving her purse at home would mean that my wife is in danger of forced deportation to a country that she hasn’t called home for 10 years. A country which she and her family fled, in danger for their lives. One government employee failing to find her file in their database, a dead cell phone battery, and she becomes an exile.
This situation is insane. The entire criteria around vetting is racist. A law which is only enforced against people of certain ethnic groups is a bigoted and unjust law. This kind of paranoia is not what makes America a great country. I refuse to believe that the spirit of The New Colossus is dead in this country. Some might have forgotten, but that poem is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, great symbol of our ideals.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The question was raised in that comment thread, of whether or not I would agree politically with J.R.R. Tolkien. This is impossible to answer definitively, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering. My absolute favorite parts of his writing do lead me to believe that Tolkien possessed compassion. This, more than any other trait, is essential to understanding those who are different from us. The line from Sam in The Return of the King (which I have in the past erroneously attributed to Faramir) gives some insight into Tolkien’s view of the dangers of tribalism, and the need to have compassion for those who seem alien to us.
It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace
It is difficult for me to read the above and not believe that Tolkien would have had sympathy for my wife’s situation. In any case, he is on the short list of heroes with which I would like to share a pint, and discuss these deeper issues of the world. Compassion, discussion, compromise, these are the tools of civilization. The ability to share a respectful discourse with even those who you vehemently oppose is the mark of wisdom, not weakness.
Issues like immigration are complex, everyone is not going to agree and there are legitimate concerns voiced by those who have an anti-immigration stance. Broad, clumsy and racists laws like the one we now have in Texas are not the solution. Civilized discussion with a goal of compromise and understanding – this is what we need. It’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be much of the Blood of Númenor left in our leaders to even desire such a compromise.
For those who have wondered where the bear was hiding, and what he was up to, now you have a bit more of my story. My wife and I will continue to fight for what we believe is right. It is difficult to be surrounded by such ugliness and not feel pessimistic at times. On some level, this article is an attempt to find hope when all around we see storm clouds.