I grew up in the Third World. Elephants by the road, cobras in the back yard. Priests performing strange rites to bring luck or drive out evil. There was bad luck and evil everywhere. Corruption and brutality. Unspeakable poverty. Blind beggars, leprous beggars, beggars with goiters, beggars with stumps. I was 8 years old when I first saw a man without a nose.
My old man was an engineer, building power plants to bring Third World countries into the 20th century. Construction sites employed human labor in the manner of the Pharaohs; wretched men in loincloths shifting baskets of dirt in ungodly heat. Walls around every house of any substance, with broken glass embedded on top and watchmen, to keep that Dante’s inferno of a world outside from coming over the top.
I loved it, was high on it, living in other people’s sprawling cities where tin-roofed squalor spread out behind the highrises, markets and ancient temples; speaking their languages; eating their food at roadside stalls; hitching rides on trucks or travelling by train and leaky boat to remote and beautiful places.
People who find out about that sometimes say, “Wow, that’s so exotic. You must find life in America so boring.”
“This place is like a Norman Rockwell painting. Four seasons. Picket fences. Everything works here. You can buy anything you need. I find this very exotic.”
“I’d love to live in a Third World country,” a woman said once.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll be living in one soon enough.”
The Third World is coming here, in biblical multitudes.
They wade rivers in their underwear, cross deserts, put their lives in criminals’ hands, pack themselves into airless trucks, and onto leaky boats. They risk death and face years of separation from the people and places they love.
To accommodate them, and capitalize on them, banks are issuing credit cards to people who don’t have social security numbers. Politicians want to give them drivers licenses and state-subsidized college educations. State officials have even been arrested on corruption charges for selling drivers licenses to foreign nationals otherwise lacking in documents. Businesses have started accepting pesos. Census workers are being instructed on how to get a good count of them. That’s important, because your tax dollars are paying for them. Immigration raids find hundreds of illegal aliens working in sweatshop conditions. An underground economy shields predatory criminals as well as people who want to better themselves. Brothels are staffed by enslaved women who came here to work, and ended up working on their backs.
We’re a nation of immigrants. We thrive on the spirit immigrants bring. But none of that is immigration, no matter how much the advocates try to push the word. I loved the Third World, but I don’t want it here. I don’t want amnesties that will encourage the flood. If we need foreign workers, let’s have a temporary worker program. Applications available in country of origin, first crack goes to people who can prove they lived in the United States … that could save us a lot in deportation costs, and instill the important American value of standing in line.
I’d rather give them the gift of work and wealth at home, in what has become the traditional American manner. By investing their nations, by building and teaching, by helping them fight corruption and despotism. By helping them help themselves.
George Bush is now in Latin America, trying to convince people that we aren’t monsters. He went with a massive package of development aid, part of a steady stream of aid that has been flowing for six decades from this incredibly wealthy and generous nation of ours, the nation that never stops giving.
Hugo Chavez has turned into stiff competition, with a Hate-America bow on his oil wealth handouts. Never mind that his “Bolivarian revolution” is alarming foreign investors, and if he succeeds in spreading it, will drive more people here. Chavez has launched his own counter-Bush tour. The “devil” schtick is a crowd-pleaser. Bush, as he tries to make inroads with the new leftist leaders and people of Latin Americam is running into protests and a lot of frankly backward, self-defeating Third World logic.
In Guatemala, some Mayan priests plan to perform a rite to purify an ancient sacred site after Bush visits, to eliminate the “bad spirits” he brings. The priests have not been paying attention. Their people are deserting them in droves. They need a ritual that will lure some American spirits, not drive them away. So the Mayan people don’t have to come here to get it.
Because America, the First World, is something exotic, something unusual and something very desireable. Everyone should be able to experience some of it. At home.
Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald.
Crittenden’s web page is at Forward Movement.