Historical Perspective

I think it’s interesting how feelings towards immigration and immigrants played such a key role for the electoral victories of both Brexit and Trump. A significant number of citizens in the UK and the US had pretty strong feelings about the waves of people coming into their country (legally and illegally). Many (if not most) of these people come either fleeting unstable and even dangerous political environments, or looking for better economic and/or professional opportunities that they just can’t find in their own home countries. Luckily I am one of the latter, but to what extent is this just historical luck?

With regards to the former, there are both pull and push factors in immigration, and while the pull factors of the US and the UK are pretty obvious, we cannot be so biased as to overlook the role that both of these nations have played in contributing to the factors that push latinos, africans, middle-easterns, south asians, etc. to leave their home countries.

Both of these nations have a long history of colonialsm and imperialism. Of using their military might to go into other countries uninvited, without any other justification than their colonialist/imperialist pretensions. Of seeking to expand their territory and increase their wealth at the expense of the native population and their natural resources. Of doing away with the existing institutions and/or borders and establishing new, unsustainable ones. It is no surprise then that these actions fostered political, economical, and social imbalances that are still felt throughout the world today. 

Thinking about the US (just because it’s the more salient example), just look at how many autocratic governments the US government openly sponsored throughout Latin America, and the terrible consequences this had for democracy and peace across the hemisphere. How they oppossed and helped overthrow democratically-elected presidents because their inclusive and progressive policies smelled of Comunism (this one rings close to home). Think about all the Latin American countries that have been raided by drug wars, and how this has been funded, motivated, and sustained in part by the vast extent of the American consumer demand. 

Now, my post is not one of anger or resentment. Its objective is not to encourage illegal immigration, or justify the actions of every immigrant. Neither is it to indulge in the narrative that many far-left Latin American leaders have embraced , of blaming ‘American Imperialism’ for all their problems. Foreign policy has changed, diplomacy has changed, and more goodwill between our nations has been established. 

No, the message that I wanted to get across is that history goes both ways: the imperialist ambitions of yesterday become the immigration waves of tomorrow. Yes, there are things that we could and should do to manage this, and the most fair and humane approach should always be sought. But we cannot resort to discrimination, anger, or ignorance. Instead, we need to have empathy and understanding because, after all, things might look a little bit different after putting them in historical perspective.