Living in new countries is an exciting, and sometimes unnerving, experience. Among the many amazing, and hospitable, people I’ve also experienced subtle forms of racism. I’ve been asked if we speak English in Australia. I’ve had people hang up on the phone because they don’t understand me and I’ve been ignored in stores. This subtle hostility is wearing and makes you think twice before speaking. I can only imagine how hard it is for people with more of a handicap than an accent not to lose their voice in a new land. Not speaking the native language is debilitating and demoralizing.
After the discovery of the Higgs Boson last week, I had a passionate sense of the unity of all people and all things and I wanted to write about immigration from this perspective. Three aspects of the Higgs Boson stand out for me;
- The power of diversity. If I understand it correctly, without the Higgs, all matter would be homogenous blobs of sameness. Pre Higgs, the universe was completely homogenous and fully symmetrical. Post Higgs, one pico second after the Big Bang, things got interesting. Thanks to the Higgs, we all walk and talk, think and wink, in our own diverse way. The Higgs Boson was the original anti conformist.
- The power of weak interactions. Again, my understanding is sketchy. It’s the weak electromagnetic connections that make solar power possible, and the weak interactions were central to the Higgs Field. I write more about weak interactions here. For now, just to emphasize the power of weak interactions; with acquaintances, with strangers, and with those who are completely new and unfamiliar. The Higgs Boson was the original United Nations.
- The power of the unknown. Here, my understanding is nil. However I have heard reputable scientists suggest that the discovery of the Higgs Boson points to the possibility of parallel universes. This puts a slight accent variance into a whole new perspective. We struggle with minor diversity in a universe of massive diversity and unknown variety.
Now, moving from Higgs and multiple universes back to earth. A few days ago I was at the ticket booth, buying tickets to ride the ferry to Mackinac Island (just north of where we live). The guy noticed my accent and asked if I was from Australia. He then proceeded to tell me how impressed he was with the Aussie Prime Minister for saying that immigrants should learn our language and adapt to our culture. Partly because the ferry was about to leave and partly because I don’t think quickly enough I smiled and walked away. I later wished that I had said, “And which Native American language should I speak on Mackinac Island?”
There is definitely something to be said for learning native language. However the sense of superiority that people SHOULD fit in with us is sickening. It should be a give and take process. Every culture should be open to learning from new arrivals, just as new arrivals will learn from their new culture. The essential point is that we are ALL immigrants. A poster in the Ecuador offices of immigration has these very words, SOMOS TODOS IMMIGRANTES, we are all immigrants. It should be plastered on every government office and airport in the world.
It’s also the mantra of Harvard professor and chair of African American studies, Henry Louis Gates jnr. You might remember back in 2010 Gates was locked out of his Cambridge home and was spotted by police trying to force entry. It led to a scuffle that made national headlines. President Obama got involved, criticized the police, and in the end Obama, Gates and the police officer all shared a bear. But the connection I enjoyed most in this story was that Gates, an expert in Genealogies, pointed out that he and the police officer shared a common ancestor, an Irish King.
As Gates said, we are all immigrants and there is very little that separates our ancestry. If you go back far enough, you find the connections. If you go all the way back, we ALL descend from the Higgs Boson. As an Aussie, I have a strong appreciation that we are all immigrants. There is an old joke about the Englishman wanting to migrate to Australia. In his immigration interview he was asked if he had a criminal record. He answered, “What! You still need one to get in?”
This idea that we are all immigrants puts a whole new complexion on current issues such as racial profiling. The conflict in America is obvious with California looking to pass an Anti Arizona immigration bill to avoid the danger of racial profiling. Even the police in Arizona don’t want to be put in the position of having to assess the immigration status of every speeding motorist.
America needs to take a reality check on where we came from, who we are, how diverse we are, and how beautiful diversity is.
Maybe we don’t need longer and higher fences around the border; but rather a statue; a statue that welcomes and celebrates diversity.
This statue would welcome not just new languages, food, and cultures, but it would embrace the hopes and dreams of new arrivals, allowing these visions to shape the national identity.
Maybe what we need is a statue that stands at the borders and welcomes people for their vision and for their passion.
But, wait. We already have that. Her name is Liberty.
As FDR said,
Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
May the Higgs be with us all as we deepen our oneness and expand our welcome.