I’ve been meaning to comment on this story in the Billings Gazette for the past day, but have found myself pretty busy working on another project or two. It’s a story about the recent detention of a Chinese restaurateur in Columbus and the response of a large group of people from the town who want to ensure that he and his family can stay.
It’s a great piece, one that challenges the assumptions that people make about conservative, small town Montana. The people of Columbus want to keep this family–because they’re hard-working, they’re bringing diversity to the community, and they’re good people.
In the abstract, it’s easy to demonize immigrants. The right wing has made a fortune in political capital in recent years preying on fears and lies about immigrants. Just read the comments at the bottom of the Gazette piece, and you’ll see the kind of rhetoric that these people use–insults about immigrants, racist stereotypes, even racist language. It’s embarrassing to think that other people might assume that Montanans think like that.
Those things are easy to do, when you don’t know someone or know anything. Anti-immigrant fear is driven by ignorance, collective thinking, and base fear-mongering. How can any of us really believe that immigrants come here (legally or illegally) for any other reason than to improve their lives and the lives of their children?
I’ll trust the people of Columbus who know Feng Chen and his family, and want them to be able to stay. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone would take the time to know immigrants as individuals, not as a demonized, stereotyped mass?
One of the powerful lessons of Christian belief is that idea that each of us is indeed, our brother’s keeper. The point, I think, is to personalize our relationships with the whole of humanity, to treat each person as if he/she were indeed a member of our family.
We’ll never reach that aspiration so long as we treat immigrants as a political football to kick and score political points with, or so long as insecure people pin medals of false patriotism on their puffed chests to hide their xenophobic insecurity.
I’ll trust the people of Columbus, with their real small town Montana values, not the ones that been painted on them by people who’ve hijacked real conservative values into hate and fear.