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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Migration Reflections

Today's lay-led service was a discussion of migration by geographer and First Parish member James Hayes-Bohanan. Drawing on his work as a geographer and his time spent in Mexico, Central America, and the US-Mexico Borderlands, it was an attempt to bring the UU First Principle to a topic that all-too-often does disservice to the worth and dignity of individuals.

We let the music of Tish Hinojosa open the discussion, with two songs from her Homeland album. "Joaquin" is a contemporary story -- perhaps fictitious but based on thousands of realities -- of what motivates a migrant and what he leaves behind. "West Side of Town" is about the artist's own family in San Antonio, Texas. It mentions migration as the initial spark of her family's history, but thereafter is more like the Loretta Lynn classic "Coalminer's Daughter" -- in other words, the story of an ordinary family loving each other and building a life. See University of Tish, Passim Campus for more about the wisdom and beauty of this music.

James continued with readings of two posts about migration from his "main" blog, Environmental Geography. He wrote the first of these, The Human Sieve, in 2010, and it remains the most complete statement of his concerns about migration. The service did not include the 2014 update Sieve Details, which adds some economic arguments and invites the reader to consider a more radical proposal to open borders entirely.
Many calling for a wall do not realize that there already IS a wall. Nor do they realize that they are subject to random search by ICE within one hundred miles of all US borders and coastlines, including most of New England and all the major cities of the East Coast.
The second reading is a year older, and was chosen because it has a direct UU connection. The church that James and Pamela attended in Tucson has become deeply involved in a humanitarian effort to save the lives of migrants being smuggled across the few deadly zones between wall segments. One of those parishioners has famously been arrested and charged with littering -- for leaving plastic water bottles in the desert -- which of course put James in mind of that most famous Massachusetts litterbug, Arlo Guthrie.

After the service, Tom St. Thomas mentioned an important song about migration -- Woody Guthrie's "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos," better known as Deportee. Many artists have covered this powerful song about the true story of a planeload of bracero program workers whose death was little-recognized. A couple of versions stand out.

First, Johnny Cash and Johnny Rodriguez on Nashville Now:

Much more recently, the duo The Last Internationale produced a music video that includes both the song and their research of the original story. Their goal was to restore something of the dignity that was taken from them by officials who considered them something less than human.

For more thoughts on migration and related subjects, search the terms migration, sieve, or Mexico on James' blog.