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‘Otherness’ and Immigration at Deerfield
Katrina Csaky '21 Staff Writer
November 8, 2019
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Immigration. We’ve seen this political issue everywhere. Whether on the news or in a discussion, the deportation of illegal “aliens” has been a heavily discussed topic in recent months. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how to “solve” the problem of illegal immigration. But is it really a math problem? What are we trying to solve?

Immigration has been a core aspect of America’s identity from its beginning. As America experienced new waves of immigration, the ethnicities facing hostility fluctuated. When the Italians arrived in the late 19th century, the New York Times referred to them as “utterly unfit – ragged, filthy, and verminous as they were – to be placed among the decent children of American mechanics.”

Today public officials make disparaging remarks against Mexican and Central American immigrants and refugees. Such targeted hostility against certain groups is an example of  ‘othering:’ an increasing problem in the 21st century.

According to John A. Powell, the Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley, “When societies experience big and rapid change, a frequent response is for people to narrowly define who qualifies as a full member of society,” a process he calls ‘othering.’

‘Othering’ can target race, religion, ethnicity, and is heavily influenced by political culture and narrative.

With new waves of immigrants in the past 200 years (Irish, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, etc.) the groups that receive hostility continue to change. Today, a lot of the hostile narrative targets Latin American immigrants and refugees. This varying focus can be defined by the changing political agenda on immigration.

For example, though the most significant source of illegal immigration is overstayed visas, it is the Latin American immigrants and refugees that the current political narrative, and thus the media, tends to focus on, causing many Americans to associate illegal immigration with Latin American descent.

Yet, even 100 years ago, the persecuted ethnic group would have been different.

This issue has been tugging at me for a while now. I am a first generation American. I am proud of that. I take pride in my Hungarian identity, my mother’s journey, and my dual citizenship. I remember being taunted for my thick accent in elementary school, as I struggled to learn English as a second language.

But accents fall away and today, walking on the Deerfield campus, speaking fluent English, I rarely get identified as the “immigrant.” In 2019, I blend in pretty easily with those who, going back to Powell’s definition of ‘othering,’ “qualify as full members of society.”

That is the biggest issue I see with immigration today. ‘Othering’ has encouraged society to create an image of what Americans should look like or should be, creating divisions, fear and animosity based on race, ethnicity, and religion.

And, despite the overwhelming evidence of the significant economic contribution immigrants make to the United States, the ‘othering’ has won.

Now, back to the question at hand: how do we “solve” the issue of illegal immigration? The answer?

Illegal immigration is too complex of a problem to simply “solve.” The most accessible issue to solve isn’t the process of accepting immigrants’ but rather how we treat and judge them in society.

My intention in writing this article wasn’t to come up with a solution; it was to start a conversation on our campus about the power of political agendas over societal division and about how we can actively work against those societal divisions, despite any agendas.

And this can start with anyone. It calls for changing the way we perceive those who look, sound, dress, or act differently than you. It calls for breaking down the impact that political narratives can have on our view of others.

It calls for granting the opportunity to each individual to demonstrate their own qualifications as a member of society.

It calls for practicing kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion, despite the hate around you.