The United States of America has been and is a country of migrants. Between 1820 and 1920 about 34 million persons entered the country, many staying permanently. From its beginning, this country has welcomed citizens from around the world. The poem The New Collosus, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 and graven on a tablet at the base of the statue on Ellis Island, tells the odyssey of those migrants and the warmth of a country that portrays itself as a golden door to freedom:
[…] "A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. […] "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
[…]I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
At this time the topic of migration is polarized. On the one hand, migrants are labeled as opportunist criminals, and on the other their right to live in dignity with their families is defended. It is not their fault. Just like the wars in 20th century Europe motivated those migrations, since 1965 the Diaspora has changed its face and this time Latin America is migrating for similar reasons: violence and poverty. The causes of migration are themselves the outcome of policies that favor the development and free trade driven by multinational companies, and adopted in an attempt to attain the prosperity dream. Thus, the extractive policies, political interference and the promise of the "Golden Door" have been some of the causes of political instability, coups, wars, destruction of natural resources, climate change and poverty in Latin America.
A vast majority of migrants from our Americas come to occupy exploitation jobs. For instance, almost 3 million farmworkers feed this country. About 60,000 live in this state. New York is second in apple production, third in cabbage and first in Greek yogurt in the country. Men and women work under sun and rain, exposed to toxic pesticides; many work 100 hours a week without the right to payment for overtime or a day of rest. Nevertheless, migrants activate the economy. For instance, they make it possible for us to have low-cost food, since they subsidize the cost at the expense of their own exploitation. They feed us, take care of our children, build and fix our homes, and with their remittances they also help the economies of their country of origin.
Several years of betting on the capitalist system, that has offered us the American dream, has led to a global crisis where entire populations have to abandon their countries. Mother Earth is giving us signs that it is time to change to a dream of harmony with nature. We have to reclaim our Americas, Abya Yala, as they were called by the ancient inhabitants. Inhabitants that continue to be present in many faces and voices who can become the new flame of hope of these, our American lands which have hosted people of the world for many centuries.
Macas Betchart is a development specialist at the Center for Worker Justice in Rochester.