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William Larsen: Thanks, but I am home

Other Voices
William Larsen

I had an interesting experience recently. I was crossing the Brunswick bridge after a demonstration with my sign under my arm when a voice came out of a car slowing down as it passed.

“Take your sign and go home.”

At the moment — extremely footsore and tired from standing out on the pavement for two hours — I was as close to being brain dead as a walking person can be. In fact I was too tired to even feel angry at the rude comment, so what came out of my mouth was unexpected and straight from the cuff.

“I am home,” I replied, without looking up or breaking stride. “I’m a veteran.”

People denying the overt racism in the immigrant question are ignoring the elephant in the living room.

Later, reflecting on that short interchange, I couldn’t help noticing how I had ranked myself as having some special status because I’m a vet. My comment made it seem that being a veteran gives one an enhanced claim to call this country “home,” and I was embarrassed at my arrogant assumption of privilege.

Truthfully, I don’t feel entitled to such ranking, nor do I feel entitled as a vet. I do feel honored to have had the opportunity to serve the country I have been proud of throughout my life for its role as a sanctuary for immigrants persecuted throughout the world. Lately, however, it’s been much more difficult to feel that pride in my home country, and this got me to thinking about the very concept of “home” itself.

Looking up the definition of the word, I found it broken down into several categories that are both objective and subjective. Every dictionary I consulted contained the classic definitions of home as a “place of residence” or “social unit formed by a family living together.” Pretty clear, yes? But as straightforward as this definition is, it is essentially superficial and limited by its exclusive focus on “home” as a thing, rather than a condition or state of mind.

Some dictionaries were more expansive in their definitions, and included the subjective experience of the individual (who, in fact, is the essential element of what any home can be). The English Oxford online dictionary also defined “home” as “a place where something flourishes.” Following this line of thought, “the Free Dictionary” online — after the usual house/family emphasis — included the following definitions for home: a. “an environment offering safety and happiness”; and b. “a valued place regarded as a refuge.”

What occurred to me in reading this is that so many of the refugees approaching our border are not attempting to trade one “home” for another. Instead, by virtue of the daily peril of war and violence, these folks are truly homeless. The land of their birth has ceased being either a safe environment or a refuge. Faced with intolerable danger to their families, they are doing pretty much what most of us would do in similar circumstances: heading for safe ground (i.e. home).

And let’s be honest here. This is a racist issue. The majority of immigrants are from the southern hemisphere, where the deteriorating social, economic and political situations create unconscionable suffering and danger. Among other things — including their non-European heritage — these people are dark skinned. People denying the overt racism in the immigrant question are ignoring the elephant in the living room.

Do you remember Trump’s assertion that we needed immigrants from Norway rather than South America? So much for the message inscribed on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your masses yearning to breathe free…” Trump’s war on immigration comes from a man who has married two light skin immigrants from East Europe. From all appearances, Trump’s mission isn’t to “make America great again,” but to keep America white.

An even more crucial issue relating to “home” is the state of our planet. The huge majority of scientists around the world are united in their belief that global climate change is threatening our very existence, and that man made pollution is by far the greatest contributor to our environmental crisis. And we have an administration that denies climate change, and is controlled by corporate interests (that “person” who values nothing beyond immediate economic growth and profit).

All I can say at this point is that if the time comes when we have to leave our steaming, flooded, overly poisoned planet, I hope the “aliens” we encounter on their home planet are a lot more generous than our country is turning out to be.

William Larsen lives in Nevada City.


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