Recently, a good friend told me an incredible story of how he came to live in this country. Originally from Mexico, he wasn’t born into third world poverty as some of us might assume when we think of immigrants risking their lives to get into the United States. His family was middle class and educated. At that time, decades ago, my friend was newly married; his wife having already immigrated to California. At 19, he paid a coyote to get him into this country without any guarantee of making it alive. The story of his dangerous adventure through Tijuana, mountains and the desert is jarringly intriguing. I’ve seen tales of this type in movies and on television, and read about them in books and magazines. But, hearing it first hand as told by a personal friend made it palpably real in an entirely new way.
My friend, and the others he traveled with during the trek through the desert, experienced hunger and dehydration. At one point, the group had made it to the mountains and my friend found himself atop a ledge next to the nest of a bald eagle. He turned around, coming eye to eye with the mother eagle. He told me he was terrified as he looked into the eyes of this powerful creature; this bird that was prepared to destroy him at the first inkling of threat against her offspring. Amazingly, he survived this confrontation, only to be deported back to Mexico shortly after.
After his first attempt at crossing the border, he landed in Tijuana where his identification papers were stolen. He was homeless with no money, no contacts, no prospects and no plan. Hungry and sick, a stranger noticed him on the street and offered him a place to stay and some food, more than likely saving his life. The chance meeting with this stranger led my friend to a job working the front desk of a whorehouse masquerading as a hotel. Crazy!
I won’t include all the details surrounding this unbelievably wacky tale for reasons I’m sure you can imagine. I have urged my friend to put his story down on paper or share it at a Moth StorySLAM event. It needs to be told, but it isn’t my story to tell. I share a few of the more astonishing facts of his story here because I wanted to write about something else that fascinates me; the dichotomy of viewpoints concerning love and hatred for America. After my friend finished telling his story, I asked which country he preferred, Mexico or the United States. Without hesitation he said, “United States!”.
I have another friend who, like me, was born and raised here. He is multi-racial with predominantly black blood running through his veins. Like me, he is angry, saddened and disgusted with the racism and marginalization that continues to plague black Americans. His family is middle class and educated, affording him many of the benefits associated with that socio-economic status. The part of his story so compelling to me is that this friend is doing everything he can to get out of the United States. He talks about how he hates this country and the way we as citizens are brainwashed into a numb submission of wage slavery and debt. He believes pop culture is used to dumb down the masses, making us pliable and easily manipulated by corporations and the wealthiest people who want to own and control everything. In his opinion, national elections are a farce, giving us the illusion of choice, when in reality, nothing ever truly changes, regardless of which party holds the presidency. Some of these beliefs are shared by many of us. The more people I intersect with on my journey, the more I find that many of us understand that these things are happening on some level or another, but we feel powerless to do anything to stop them.
I am fascinated by the idea that my friend from Mexico almost died to get into this country while my other friend, born here, is dying to get out. Even more thought-provoking is the metaphor of the bald eagle. This creature has been employed as a symbol of freedom and strength for Americans since the country’s beginnings. Though, hearing my friend tell his story, I began to visualize a different symbol: The eagle as menacing and irrational, seeking to kill first and ask questions later; perched atop that mountain ledge, watching over her nest of babies, threatening the existence of anyone who would take what belongs to her.
My friend had no ill-will towards the bird or her nest. He was simply journeying towards a life that he perceived to be more desirable than the one Mexico offered. He stared the eagle straight in the eye and walked away alive. Why did she let him pass and live to tell the tale? Could it be that she realized this man wasn’t a real threat to her after all? Possibly, she recognized that he was simply trying to make a life for himself as she was. Maybe, she finally decided that both she and my friend could share space in this country without each threatening the existence of the other.
When I think about America from the viewpoint of my other friend, the one born here, the eagle morphs into a symbol of the aggressive and all consuming wealthiest one percent; an aggressor poised to pounce and kill at the first sign of anyone threatening to get in the way of what she claims as hers, whether by right or force. She stares us down, with piercing eyes that say, “this is mine, how dare you look upon it as if it might one day be yours”. If he’d been unlucky enough to come face to face with her, would the eagle let my U.S. born friend pass as she had my Mexican friend? Or, in jealous fear, would she dangle his body above the cliffs of poverty, racism and ignorance only to drop him into the abyss, fearing he might chose to build a nest of his own on the ledge next to hers?
Such a narrow divide separates our love for the marvelous, and hatred of the horrific in my country.