Remember the People Behind the Rhetoric

15 miguel.jpg
Miguel Gomez inspects rows of cherry trees at Canyon View Orchards in the small town of Benton City, Wash. An immigrant from Mexico, Gomez had lived in Benton since 1985 and was one of the few employees with yearlong employment at the orchard. (Benton City WA, 2007)

Two years ago I was hopeful. Hopeful that I would get to see history being made. Hopeful that our country would continue to improve. Hopeful that I would have little to fear in the morning.

Today, I fear a lot. Fear that my right to bodily autonomy will be stripped away. Fear that today’s students are being indoctrinated to be tomorrow’s uninformed electorate. Fear that the 90% of us are powerless against the oligarchic, plutocratic, and kakistocratic 10% in control of our country.

And yet I know, that as someone who is white, able-bodied, cisgendered, neurotypical, and educated that I have far less to fear than others.

Simply because of my skin tone, I will never be “othered.” I will never be referred to as a “rapist” or have my place of birth questioned or be judged by the actions of my racial group or have any number of other dehumanizing comments thrown my way (though I may be demeaned in other ways).

But I will always be “human.” Not everyone is so lucky.

When I hear people refer to undocumented immigrants or those seeking asylum as “animals” who are “infesting” our country, I think of people like Miguel Gomez.

Miguel worked at Canyon View Orchards in Benton City, Washington, and I met him in 2007 when I was doing the photography for a newspaper article. Miguel spoke limited English as he showed me and the writer around the orchard and his home, but I didn’t need to perfectly understand everything he said to see that he was a devoted husband and father, and a dedicated employee. The work he did kept him outside all day as he tended to the cherry trees, and is exactly the kind of work that most of us don’t want to do but depend on as a society.

Miguel today would likely be called a “rapist,” an “animal,” or a “murderer” by some people. Politicians would be using him to shore up nativist fervor. Maybe today he’s even worried that ICE will show up at his door, despite his decades of work in the country.

We must not be blinded by the rhetoric. Dehumanizing and “othering” immigrants, of any status, takes people, and the country, down a dangerous path.

“Those who dehumanize are more likely to support hostile policies, and those who are dehumanized feel less integrated into society and are more likely to support exactly the type of aggressive responses … that may accentuate existing dehumanizing perceptions”

Nour Kteily & Emile Bruneau

History is full of examples of the dangers that comes with dehumanization–from the Jews during Nazi Germany to Asians Internment Camps in WWII America to today with detained migrants being held in “detention centers,” those who are viewed as “not human” are easily disposed of.

We must remember the people, like Miguel, behind the rhetoric.

The parents, spouses, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, cousins…the people who love, laugh, cry, work, worry, hope, and live, just like you and me.

They are us. We are them.

There is no other. 

There’s only rhetoric trying to scare you into thinking there is.


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