Two Important Questions – And, My Takeaways from The DREAMers by Walter Nichols

It seems that there are always two important questions. I think one gets more attention than the other.

Question #1 — The first is some version of this question: “how do we become successful, stay successful, and become ever more successful in our business endeavors?”

This question is pretty much at the top of any and every agenda.

Question #2 — The other is some version of this question: “how do we become, and remain, a society that enhances the human spirit?” This question encompasses all sorts of challenges about human need, social justice, education, health… and I’m not sure it is always equal on the agenda with Question #1.

I think it should be.

DreamersSo… I just finished reading The Dreamers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate by Walter Nichols (Stanford University Press. 2013). I will present my synopsis of this book later today at the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.

It is definitely a book that deals with Question #2, (though it does have implications for the first).

Here’s what I found: “illegal immigrants” are not quite considered “human” by a large, powerful group of people. They are viewed, in some sense, as “less than human.”

But there is one group that has more successfully made the journey from “illegal immigrants” to “undocumented people.” These are the DREAMers – the people who went thorough our school system and graduated. (The name comes from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — the DREAM Act).

From the book:

This group of undocumented immigrants learned how to construct compelling rights claims, identify public arenas, such as campuses and the Internet, to express their claims, plan and undertake high-risk protests, and lobby public officials to support bills recognizing their rights and the rights of other undocumented immigrants in the country.
It was during this time when the slogans “I Exist!” and “Undocumented and Unafraid” became prominent.

The book is, I think, an accurate description of the struggle to become “acceptable/fully human” for a large group of folks. I think the book clearly identifies the core issue. From my handout (obviously, ideas from the book):

The core issue (of this book; of our time(?)) is – “Who” are “persons?”
Illegal aliens as “other” — 

  • most of all, “other than human” (other than “as human”)
  • Persons vs. aliens
  • Persons vs. illegals
  • “We Are All Human!” This prominent slogan captures the essence of the immigrant rights movement.

At its core, this is a struggle over who should be considered fully “human” and how those deemed “less-than-human” should be treated by the government and members of the national community.

Whether you are “for” accepting these “DREAMers,” or against, this much is pretty clear – there are lots of them in this country. I think we have continued to kick this issue down the road, and I’m not sure that is a good plan… It’s certainly not how human beings should treat other human beings – leaving them in limbo.

Here are my takeaways from the book:

1. First, “self-definition” can lead to “others understanding”…
2. Sadly, this book is a reminder that “politics is the art of the possible“you can’t always get what you want” – (or, nowhere near all you want)
3. “Messaging” precedes progress; disciplined messaging matters; remember to “identify” with the core values of your “opposition” (the core values of the actual power-holding decision-makers).
4. Even when you have “majority advantages,” a minority can block acceptance…
5. And, one footnote – think about Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and all of the “connected” issues – in other words, think about lingering realities about racism…)

You might agree with this book, or disagree. But, no matter which side of the issue you fall on, this is a book worth considering. It will help you think about Question #2.

(In case you care to know, I am a strong supporter of the DREAM act, and, really, a supporter of much greater acceptance of undocumented people).


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