The Oscars Highlighted The Immigrant Experience, But We Shouldn’t Have To Win Awards To Be Worthy Of Your Respect
As I've said just 24 hours ago, the 2017 Oscars were a win for immigrants in the sense that it gave many of them the platform to speak in their own voices about their own experiences while accepting awards for their artistic achievements. It was like a trifecta of epicness, especially in our current political climate. But as the sun rises on a new day, and life goes on, we need to think about next steps. Just like Barack Obama being elected president didn't fix racism, so too did the celebration of the immigrant experience at Sunday night's Oscars ceremony not fix the anti-immigration sentiment currently endorsed by the White House. And, honestly, the celebration of the positive contributions that immigrants have made to the American experience has an unfortunate dark side that we need to examine before we can move forward: it implies that immigrants are only as good as what we can do for you.
It said we want your art, but we don't want you.
Nowhere is that best illustrated that when the Trump administration proposed paying for the wall to be built between the United States and Mexico by charging a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports. People immediately began to worry about the impending price increase on guacamole and Corona, as if having to pay more for Mexican products is the main reason to object to the construction of the wall. The implication that the rights and basic humanity of immigrants is only worth acknowledging in relation to what we can do for American-born citizens was perfectly summed up in this insightful tweet from Bustle's own Sam Escobar:
That issue was further highlighted in the statement of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, after he won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman. Farhadi declined to attend the ceremony in protest of Trump's temporary refugee ban, which blocks immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. His speech immediately zeroed in on the unfairness of this policy:
My absence is out of respect for the people of my country, and those of [the] other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the 'us' and 'our enemies' categories creates fear — a deceitful justification for aggression and war.
The contrast of Farhadi receiving an award for his Iranian film at a ceremony based in the same country that was banning his people from entering was a powerful statement in and of itself. It said we want your art, but we don't want you.
Immigrants occupy a controversial place in United States history. Before America was even a thing, European colonists immigrated to this "New World" from Europe and stealing the land from the Native Americans already living there through horrific acts of genocide and the spreading of disease. Later on in American history, immigrants began to be looked at with suspicion, fear, and hatred for stealing jobs — a belief that still carries into today. And, if we're not being hated for "stealing jobs," we're being hated for being criminals. Donald Trump said of Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And, some, I assume, are good people." This, despite the fact that evidence appears to point to the fact that, per CBS News, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than American-born citizens, according to the American Immigration Council non-profit's analysis of the 2010 census and the American Communities Survey.
So how can we, as a country, justify handing awards to immigrants on one day and passing legislation to have them banned or otherwise detained from the country every other day? Why are immigrants only worthy of praise and admiration and respect when they're making movies or providing goods and services, and not when we're living their lives and working hard for the American dream like any other human being? How are we the subject of so many negative stereotypes in America, even when studies have proven those stereotypes to be unfair or even downright inaccurate? And when will it end?
I'm a person. I was born in Jamaica in April 1990, and, five years later, my father brought me to America to join my mother, who had missed the best years of my childhood in order to work here and make enough money to start our lives. I've lived in the Bronx and in Westchester. I've gone to Catholic schools my whole life. I like reading. I like writing. I like Beyoncé and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I love the Hamilton Mixtape. "Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)" has been an anthem of mine since Trump's inauguration, because of how relevant the lyrics are to my experience and to America at large. "Racists feed the belly of the beast with they pitchforks," raps Snow Tha Product. "Rich chores done by the people that get ignored."
I have a 14-year-old sister — the first in my immediate family to be born in America — who started high school this year and wants to become a video game designer. I have a 20-year-old cousin going to college, aspiring to become a dentist. They're "America's ghost writers," as "Immigrants" would call them, fighting every day for the reward and recognition that come so easily to other people. I spend every day worrying about whether or not they will ever see those dreams come true, and worrying what kind of dream I myself am living. But even if I wasn't an entertainment editor at Bustle, doing my best to give voice to issues and opinions that are meaningful to me, trying to connect with people who might, through my words, feel less alone, I wouldn't be any less of a person. I am so much more than the work I do.
So, yeah, it's beautiful that Hollywood actually acknowledged the important and impactful work that immigrants have contributed to the artistic world. But even if we aren't contributing important and impactful work, we're still human beings. And we deserve better than to be reduced to just what we can or will do to entertain you or to make your lives easier.