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Night and day

KAREN ELIAS

Lock Haven

This past week, major newspapers across the country reported that Stephen Miller’s white supremacist beliefs are shaping White House policy on immigration. The beliefs used by this administration to justify the closure of our borders veer uncomfortably close to the racist policies of the 1920s. These claimed that my own grandparents, supposedly “peasants” who came to this country from Lithuania, could “mongrelize the race.” Because my family — battered by the prejudices against them — chose to disavow their background, I was completely unaware of my Lithuanian heritage until I was in my 40s, a heritage I now claim with pride.

This past week we had an opportunity, here in Lock Haven, to think further about immigration issues by hearing about them directly from two very different speakers.

On Nov. 11, Michelle Malkin, a self-described Nationalist Conservative who claims she is “providing diversity of thought to our campus” and community, provided only a greivance list of far-right talking points. Her talk, rife with unsupported generalities, was designed to provoke only knee-jerk responses, including fear (of a “mass immigration tsunami”) and wholesale outrage against those on the left who are responsible, according to Malkin, for a range of crimes that include, for one, having the nerve to place her in Asia House when she first arrived at Oberlin College.

(Her parents were born in the Phillipines. Oberlin wanted her to feel comfortable. She could have asked for another housing assignment.)

Malkin has positioned herself as a spokesperson for white nationalism, and her remarks at times come perilously close to espousing dangerous conspiracy theories. The “waves of refugees” being admitted to our country are responsible, she believes, for the fact that minorities will become the majority by 2045. By targeting George Soros again and again for this phenomenon, she used the very same arguments that the shooter at the Tree of Life Synogogue used to justify his murderous anti-Semitic assault.

And when asked by an audience member whether anyone was coming forward to oppose the left, she said that Gavin McGinniss, founder of the Proud Boys, was “standing up and defending our country.” (The Proud Boys is a far-right, neo-fascist organization that admits only men as members and promotes political violence. Members of the Proud Boys were present at the white supremacist, alt-right rally in Charlottesville, VA, in August 2017, where a woman was murdered.)

I know that Malkin charges between $30,000 to $50,000 per speech. I assume that much of her fee came from the Koch-funded America’s Foundation.

Why the university itself continues to sponsor speakers such as Malkin, who provoke not “diversity of thought” but purely ideological and incendiary fear-mongering, is beyond me.

We here in Lock Haven deserve better.

And we got that very thing last Thursday with Dr. Eva Moya, associate professor of Social Work at the University of Texas at El Paso, who spoke to a packed Price auditorium on “U.S.-Mexico Borderland: Immigrant Challenges and Opportunities.”

Urging us to put politics aside, she devoted time to describing conditions in the borderland between El Paso and Juarez, as a way to humanize what has become the most fortified and contested place in the U.S.

Born in El Paso and allowed to attend school in Mexico where her family was living, she moved as a child between the two countries, crossing the border several times a day.

Her analysis, unlike Malkin’s, is rooted in the economic and geo-cultural realities that shaped her family history.

Moya’s experience of border-crossing has given rise to her understanding that we are all migrants, and that migration is a human right. She asked us to extend that understanding to those who have been forced to leave their home countries due to unbearable conditions of violence and poverty.

The need to set aside the hateful rhetoric that separates us came home to Moya with the white supremacist attack targeting Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019, where 22 people died.

In response, El Paso residents from all sides, including legal, religious and political representatives, came together in a humanitarian effort to offer hope and support, declaring “No one will separate us.” The day of her talk, Moya said, the El Paso Walmart reopened, with a permanent memorial to the shooting’s victims.

The difference between these two speakers was like night and day.

I came away from Malkin’s presentation feeling stuck fast in a divisive and airless place. Dr. Moya’s talk, on the other hand, left me feeling hopeful for the first time in a number of days.

The many individuals and organizations at Lock Haven University responsible for bringing her here should be commended.

They allowed us to hear a wonderful, vital woman, who stands as a testament to the power of crossing the borderlands that separate us and who is working with wholehearted commitment to turn them into places of interdependence and connection.

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