Suicide Forest


Every weekday the gringa looks forward to 4pm.  That’s when my oldest son calls me as he drives home from work. He is a bit of a political revolutionary, young, passionate, ready to change the world. Although he loves to talk politics, current events and debate solutions, the very first thing he asks me is, “How was your day?” I usually tell him boring, just the way I like it since I am a “no drama mama”.

Although he doesn’t read my blog, he always asks me what I’ve been writing about. In a recent conversation, when I told him about my underwater Japanese mystery city post, he said, “You should write about the Suicide Forest.” I had never heard of such a thing so, of course, it totally piqued the gringa’s interest. Although I usually like to keep my stuff focused on science, mysteries and the interestingly inane, a dark, macabre cultural piece has begun a creative itch that simply must be scratched.

In Japan there is Aokigahara which, roughly translated, means “Sea of Trees”. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is more commonly known as the Suicide Forest and is situated near the northwest base of Mount Fuji, covering almost 14 square miles of raw woodland. Thick with foliage and set against the backdrop of a majestic volcano, it would seem to be the perfect spot for a picturesque photo safari for a tourist until you realize what the locals do here, the hike of no return.

Why is Aokigahara such a select place for suicide? Perhaps it is because the undergrowth is so dense a corpse can go undiscovered and undisturbed. Local officials estimate that roughly 100 persons kill themselves in this forest annually. However, because many go undetected, the suicide victim count could be much higher. Despite instituting prevention methods such as surveillance cameras  and posting encouraging signs throughout the paths that have messages reminding folks how precious their life is to loved ones, Japanese people determined to take their own lives still succeed in their mission.

The favorite method of self-inflicted death is hanging. However, ingesting poison runs a close second and then there’s option number three, a drug overdose.  But why here? Officials point to a popular romantic tragedy written by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto. His 1960 novel  depicts a failed love story. The heroine ultimately ends her life in the Sea of Trees. She chose the Sea of Trees, according to the story, because, referenced within the tale by the author, she reads the book The Complete Suicide Manual which describes the forest as the “perfect place to die”. This novel has been found with many of the victims.

Every year volunteers gather to roam the thick stands of old trees and deep undergrowth to search for human remains. Officials have ceased to publicize the results of these grisly corpse hunts. Curious people like the gringa can only refer to earlier published reports that clearly indicate an average of 75-100 bodies returned to families for burial annually.

In the West, suicide is stigmatized. This is greatly due to our religious conditioning. Even if a person is not a practicing Jew or Christian, Western culture still considers suicide as anything but honorable. Some consider it self-murder. In fact, that is how it is considered by much of Western law. It is against the law to kill a human being, including yourself. Many religious sects believe a suicide victim’s remains have been desecrated by the act. Such bodies are not allowed to be buried in hallowed church cemeteries. But suicide is considered very differently in Japan.

In the Japan of old, ubasute was considered an honorable solution to ignoble suffering. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. If years of famine or drought rolled around, a head of a household would have to consider the effect it was having on his family. How many mouths were there to feed? How much food was there to go around? In order to survive, the least productive family member with no future, basically the old folks, would be led up into the mountains and abandoned to their natural fate of a slow death by exposure. Whether or not ubasute was ever widely practiced is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is a strong feature of Japanese historical myths and legends which has helped to shape their cultural practices and beliefs. Suicide is noble if it preserves the honor, integrity and prosperity of the family.

Although ubasute may be the stuff of legends, noble Samurai suicides are well documented throughout Japan’s feudal history.  It was the honorable way to go out. Seppuku culture views it as a way of taking responsibility of a situation that has gone bad.

Because suicide is considered a virtuous solution and is not stigmatized the way it is in Western culture, Japan ranks the world’s leader in suicide. When the entire world became mired in an economic crisis in 2008, over 2,000 Japanese chose suicide over living a life of financial ruin.

Should you, like the gringa, find the disturbing allure of Aokigahara irresistible and mark it as a place to visit and satisfy your own curiosity, or perhaps meditate in an effort to bring peace to a place that must be saturated with anguish, there are a few things you may want to know before you arrive:

  • Hauntings – It is said that the Sea of Trees is filled with yurei, or, ghosts. And these are not your average ghosts. They are mourning and vengeful. They desire company, your company. Legends go that they attempt to lure you off the beaten path so that you become lost in the wilderness and die like the ubasute victims of old.
  • Camping – Overnight camping is allowed. Be aware that local forest patrols are trained to consider tents as a sign that someone is taking their time about contemplating suicide. Don’t be surprised if a ranger shows up and begins conversing with gentle words of affirmation and encouragement. If he suspects you are engaged in a mental suicide debate, he will probably urge you to pack up and leave.
  • Tape – As you explore the forest on nature hikes, you may see tape looped in the branches of trees and bushes. These are the signs left behind to mark the path of corpse searchers in their attempt to not become lost.
  • Demons – What is attributed to demonic interference by local legend is more likely the result of geology. The area is rich in iron which affects magnetics. GPS systems, ye olde compasses and cellphone are pretty much useless. If you can’t navigate by the stars, for heaven’s sake don’t get off the trail!
  • Be Prepared – Like a good boy scout who is prepared for anything, mentally brace yourself for the very real possibility that you could stumble across a decomposing body, skeletal remains or personal effects of a victim of the forest.
  • More Than Death – Despite the ghastliness of the Sea of Trees being called Suicide Forest, there is still much more to be appreciated. Don’t let a macabre history put you off as a tourist. There is, of course, the fantastic opportunity to be near Mount Fuji. Great photo opportunities also await on the lava plateau, ancient centuries-old trees and the bewitching ice-scape of the Narusawa Ice Cave.

The gringa would love to go there and contemplate respectfully. Although I am a bit of a prankster and once staged a tragic fall down a rocky cliff when the caveman and I hiked about the Smoky Mountains, I’m certain this knowledge of Aokigahara will keep me in a more subdued state of mind.

Source:  www.mentalfloss.com

image: www.jennyjinya.deviantart.com

 

 

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Who Were Those Ancient Siberians?


An interesting Siberian archaeological site is the tittle-tattle of historians recently, squabbling on what ancient people get credit for the structure sitting on an island in the middle of  a lake. It’s over one thousand years old so Russians, as we know them today, are not the culture responsible for this structure. Who the heck needed a fortress in Siberia 1,300 years ago?

Experts have dated it to about 750AD. Situated in the middle of Lake Tere-Khol in Tuva, this high altitude lake location has some historians believing it could possibly indicate religious, astronomical, or imperial significance. The theories bandied about are that it is possibly a regent’s summer palace, a monastery or, perhaps, an observatory for the heavens.

Finding out what was going on in Siberia in the 700s is not as easy as one might think. A trip to Wikipedia (the source of all online knowledge, right?) reveals that Russia’s historical timeline inconveniently begins in 860AD with a record of the Rus’-Byzantine War. Wikipedia has let the gringa down.

Digging back a bit further, things get vague. One simply has to pick up a bit here and bob over there and put together a picture that, although still a bit hazy, can at least deliver a pretty good idea of who the heck was running the show in Siberia in the 750s.

The first stop on the collection route of ancient Siberian bits and bobs is linguistics. Author Rein Taagepera penned a book entitled “The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State”. There is a single quote that sheds some light on the 750s mystery people of Siberia:

“Samic was previously considered a language with disparate dialects but is now increasingly seen as  a collection of half a dozen related languages that diverged some 1,300 years ago. They are spoken in northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Federation.”

Here, at least, Wikipedia did not let the gringa down. Wikipedia explains that the Samic language is believed to have its roots in ancient Finland dating from 1000BC-700AD. The Finnish-Samic link to this Siberian archaeology site is further strengthened by an observation made by Ludmila Koryakova and Andrej Vladimirovich Epimakhov in their book, “The Urals and Western Siberia in the Bronze and Iron Ages”:

“In the sixth-third centuries BC, their northern trade was oriented to southeastern Europe, but after the second century BC, caravans went to western Siberia, where the Sargat culture constituted the most powerful ethnic and political union.”

So, the gringa believes an actual cultural identity can now be assigned to ancient Finnish ancestors speaking the Samic language who settled in Siberia – the Sargats. Researchers identify evidence of this culture in the forested steppes of southwest Siberia near Russia’s fifth century border with northern Kazakhstan. Archaeological artifacts and burial remains show that the Sargats lived a horse herding lifestyle centered around raising sheep and cattle. A nomadic tradespeople, their wares were typically milk products, meat and textiles. Social structure, determined from burial rituals, reflect that women were regarded equally as men with regard to managing herds and local governance. Warrior status, however, was an elite status reserved for only the most wealthy and powerful males.

DNA evidence of remains also revealed a curious Iranian ancestry link as well. So, the Sargats were probably originally Finnish and eventually intermarried with other tribespeople living in Siberia, coming into contact through trade and war. Ancestry for Siberians can be traced not only to Finland and Iran but also to Turkey, Mongolia and China as well as traces of Viking influences.

Interestingly enough, the style of the controversial Siberian structure shows Chinese architectural influences. The official name of the site is “Por-Bajin” and is considered a mystery by the experts who have been studying it for decades. The name is derived from the Tuvan language and means “clay house”.  Sitting near the border of Russia and Mongolia, it is then probably no surprise to see a Chinese influence in the design.

Researchers liken the layout to resembling a typical Buddhist temple. This similarity along with its isolated location and the fact that the cultures of this time were nomadic and not organized in such ways as to see an imperial palace as something useful, causes the gringa to consider the monastery theory to be more credible than a fortress type imperial summer palace or astronomical observatory. Like Catholic missionaries who traveled to remote places all over the world and constructed missions and convents, Buddhist monks followed a similar tradition.

Another curiosity is that the structure lacks any evidence of a heating system, even one that would be basic and crude. Surely that, too, would rule out an imperial summer palace. Siberia, even in the hottest period of a summer season, would still be uncomfortably cool without any heat source within a dwelling. To try to survive a winter without heat would be a death sentence. So, even as a monastery, monks could only be in residence during the summer.

The gringa loves a good mystery and will certainly be eagerly awaiting more news and future developments regarding “Por-Bajin”. With the effects of climate change causing permafrost melt resulting in water levels rising in Lake Tere-Khol, the caveman and I better put it on our climate change related priority travel list to see it before the waters swallow it up!

Source & Image Credit:           http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/features/f0009-who-built-this-siberian-summer-palace-and-why/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_languages

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2010/11/ancient-mtdna-from-sargat-culture.html

 

The U.S., Migrants & Climate Change


 

It’s easy to be academic and read reports on climate change and nod your head in agreement. It’s easy to be concerned and realize that if we don’t get our crap together, world, and make some meaningful changes fast, our grandkids are going to inherit a planet and lifestyle we will not even recognize. But, truthfully, despite our academic acceptance and realization of the future, has anything actually happened close enough to home to truly motivate us to make significant change in our own personal lives?

I am not a faithful recycler. I live a minimalist consumer lifestyle but that’s probably because I’m poor. I don’t drive that much but that’s probably more to do with my work-at-home lifestyle and epilepsy. I keep the house warm in the summer and chilly in the winter mainly because I want to save money on my utility bill. So, really, despite all of my opinionated bloviating on climate change, I feel like I’m not actually walking the walk. I don’t think I’m alone in this. What would really have to happen to inspire drastic action for the average person?

What about a mass migration occurring right in your neighborhood? What if you lived in a small, rural town that had a very small conclave of immigrants from a tiny island in the Pacific ocean? What if this island is facing a very real threat of being inundated with devastating storms and floods because of climate change? What if the 50,000+ population’s primary connection to salvation lay in their friends and family living in this small, rural, U.S. town? What if they expect to be “run aground” within ten years at the current rate of rising sea levels? What if many decide to get the heck out of Dodge starting now?

Guess what? All of those “what ifs” are the real deal for Springdale, Arkansas and the Marshall Islands. And the Marshallese consul general in Arkansas is already preparing for this very real and very near possibility. We could very well be entering the era of climate refugee migrations. And it could all begin in the Pacific Ocean and Heartland of America.

The 7,000+ Marshallese community of Springdale, Arkansas is the largest community of Marshallese within the U.S. mainland. About 12,000 more live in the northwestern region of Arkansas. Honolulu is the only place on Earth, other than the Marshall Islands, with a larger Marshallese population. And, if the Marshallese are fleeing from climate change destruction on their islands, it is unlikely they will migrate to other Pacific islands (Hawaii) for refuge. So, it looks like the open arms of friends and family in Arkansas will soon receive an influx of the first climate change refugees.

The Springdale population is around 75,000. Could they handle taking on another 10 or 20 or 30 thousand over the period of ten years? What if the entire 50,000 show up? The town already has the nation’s only Marshallese newspaper written in their own language. They also have a radio station. Is that enough? What else would such a vast cultural community need to adjust to new migrants?

Over the years, the Marshallese that have immigrated and settled in Springdale have proven to be good citizens, getting educated, finding work and behaving themselves as good citizens. The history of the Marshall Islands connection with the U.S. reflects a close relationship. That was where the country tested out nukes in the 1940s and 1950s.

Perhaps the name “Bikini Atoll” sounds more familiar to most mainland Americans than Marshall Islands. That little atoll was inhabited and those poor people had to abandon their homes because of the nuclear tests. Even today that little atoll is uninhabitable because of the nuclear contamination. It is then no wonder that in the 1980s the U.S. attempted to right this wrong by creating the Compact of Free Association which allowed indefinite, visa-free immigration to the U.S. by Marshallese citizens. Many of these “Bikinians” made their way to Springdale.

The Tyson Foods plant was one of the first employers of the immigrants. It did not take long for word to get back home about job opportunities at the chicken plant. Very soon many more Marshallese were arriving in Springdale looking for work.

Despite the opportunities for work and education on the mainland, most of the Marshallese want to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, it may now disappear. Because of this history of displacement and longing for home, the Marshallese have become strong advocates regarding climate change. And the gringa is listening.

Arkansas is practically right next door! I know I live in Texas, but, still, Arkansas is my neighbor! I have an aunt and uncle that live there. My family and I have vacationed there. And it could be the first state in my country to receive the first climate change diaspora. And it could happen within my lifetime.

If the Marshallese Islands become uninhabitable within a decade, how many other island nations are facing the same stark reality and looking at the possibility of the extinction of their homeland? Where are they planning to escape to? Could it be in your own backyard? How could this affect you and your own?

These are things the gringa wants to know. And, the gringa has to really change.

Source: http://www.unfccc.int

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com

 

 

Hiking Cochiti Pueblo’s Tent Rocks


If you ever find yourself near Albuquerque, New Mexico with a free day on your hands, you should spend that time at the Pueblo de Cochiti, specifically at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. It is an unforgettable landscape that is absolutely breathtaking. The fifty-five mile drive north is well worth it to explore this beautiful plateau that is expertly painted by nature.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located on the Pueblo de Cochiti. The people of the Pueblo speak their native language, Keres and live their cultural heritage with no private employers or private economic enterprise. Their claim to fame is stunning handcrafted jewelry, beautiful pottery, and artistic native drums. The primary source of revenue for the Cochiti people are lease agreements with private investors of residential units on Lake Cochiti. The Cochiti people live in the heart of their original homeland and consider responsible management of the land, air and water of the reservation of primary importance because it enables them to maintain their cultural traditions.

The Bureau of Land Management considers the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument to be an outdoor laboratory of nature. Agents study the geologic processes that continually take place to shape this unusual landscape. A visit is incomplete without hiking the trails. They are quite rugged so wear proper hiking boots, unlike the gringa who wore cute little sandals. When the caveman and the gringa made their trip, it was a day after some heavy rains. Often, along the trail, there would be puddles of water or the trail would be muddy. Usually I could go around. In the image above, the caveman and I had reached a spot where the trail was so narrow and muddy, my only option was to crabwalk the rock walls to go over. So, if you do plan to be cute rather than practical, be sure to take a hiking buddy who can give you a hand over the muddy spots.

Also take lots of water, pack a picnic and make sure you have plenty of gas in the car. There was one little cafe about fifteen minutes away but, being a mom and pop operation, if the day was slow, they would just close up shop early. There’s no guarantee you can resupply if you have a need. So, arrive at Tent Rocks fully prepared. Also note that no pets are allowed in the park and there are no exceptions. Don’t make the mistake of showing up with Fido in the car on a hot day and realize you can’t stay. Rather than suffer that disappointment, leave Fido at the hotel.

These unusual rock formations are the result of volcanic activity from the Jemez volcanic field that happened millions of years ago. Pumice, ash and other debris piled up about 1,000 feet thick. The cone rock formations occurred when fiery rock fragments were violently flung down the slopes of the volcanoes, like an avalanche of fire. This is called a pyroclastic flow.

A fascinating feature of these formations are caps on top of many of the cones. Huge boulders precariously balance atop the formations. It made the gringa imagine the child of a giant race playing little games with rocks to see how many he could get to stay and not fall. These cap rocks are actually protective to the earthen cone, protecting it from erosion. The tents that have lost their caps are disintegrating. Some of the tent rocks reach as high as ninety feet.

The caveman and I chose the “long” trail to hike and, after an hour and a half of hiking, finally made it to the uppermost peak. The view was fabulous and well worth the effort. Once again he found it fascinating that throughout all the mud on the trails, clambering over rocky obstacles and jumping down from rugged ledges, when we finally returned to the car my cute little flip flops were still shiny like new and the gringa didn’t even have a streak of dust on her black leggings. He believes I must possess some form of magical powers. The gringa thinks the power was only within the earth we were exploring. Maybe that power likes me as much as I appreciate it and responds with some kind of enveloping magical aura to keep me clean! Yes, my imagination ran away with me while hiking that conically hypnotic fairyland landscape.

Pojoaque Pueblo


The caveman and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2013. While we were there we visited the Pojoaque Pueblo. The Poeh Cultural Center was such an inspiring place to visit. They have many classes available designed to restore native traditions and the native language of the Pojoaque tribe.

The art studios feature different mediums. We saw designers creating beautiful jewelry. There also was, of course, pottery and sculpture. One of the galleries featured an exhibit of a tribal member who is a fashion designer, Patricia Michaels, featured on Project Runway. The permanent exhibit “Nah Poeh Meng”, Tewa for “The Continuous Path” depicts the history of the Pueblo in seasonal divisions. I found it fascinating.

Whether we were exploring the grounds that were filled with interesting sculptures and architecture, or educating ourselves through the many historical pieces on display in the museum, we were equally captivated. The Poeh cultural center is a vital part of Pojoaque’s thriving tribal community. If you ever get the chance, you should visit.

One Small Lesson On Race Relations


I am a white woman. Because of my skin color, I often get pre-judged and discriminated against by darker skinned people who do not know me. They assume I have nothing valid to offer when it comes to the issue of race. However, I beg to differ. Being a part of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious and multi-political family, I have plenty of experience dealing with racism and turning people’s minds around or, sometimes, inside out. I haven’t experienced every single racial injustice that can be imagined, but I have learned a little something from my own experiences.

One such experience involved my oldest son. He is bi-racial, half black, half white. One afternoon I got a call from his high school principal. My son had received a disciplinary action. The school thought I should know about it. I told the principal I was on my way if he had time to discuss it. He did.

I arrived at the principal’s office and found in his office himself, my son, and my son’s teacher present for this meeting. I did not enter this meeting with any pre-conceived ideas as to who may be right or wrong. I did not enter this meeting defensive and assume my son had done no wrong. He was a teenager. He got it wrong about as often as he got it right. That’s why he still needed parenting.

The principal introduced everyone then let the teacher explain the situation. She said, “Class was almost over and we had completed our work for the day so I let the kids hang out and talk for about ten minutes before the bell. Your son was hanging out with his friends. I didn’t hear what all was being said but I did hear your son’s comment because he said it very loud. He said, ‘But, I’m BLACK, nigga!”

At this point my son interrupted and exclaimed, “Exactly! I am!” I corrected him and told him it was inappropriate to interrupt. He needed to respect her right to talk and he would get his turn.

The teacher then told me she went over to my son and told him he could not speak like that and say the “N” word and he began to argue with her that he could because he’s black. She told him, “No you are not black. You need to report to the office because you are going to be getting ISS (in school suspension).” That was the end of it until I arrived.

I asked the teacher if she was unaware of my son’s ethnicity. Did she not know that he really was half black? She did not. She “assumed” he was Indian. I laughed and told her he gets that alot. I assured her that he was, indeed, black. The gringa then was certain that he was not being singled out for disciplinary action because he was “black”. To be honest, the idea never occurred to me that my son would experience racism in the diverse school he went to. This just simply affirmed it.

I turned to my son and asked him if what she had said was true. He said it was. I asked him if she left anything out that was important. He said she didn’t. I then asked the principal exactly what school policy had been violated. He explained the “N” word was not a word allowed on campus.

I turned to my son and told him, “You did the crime. You are going to do the time.” He protested that it was unfair. That he was black. It wasn’t racist for him to say that word. The purpose of the policy was to prevent racists from calling black kids names. He wasn’t doing that. Why should he be punished? Hearing such logic in his argument warmed the gringa’s heart to a degree, but his logic was flawed.

My pearl of wisdom for that day was to explain to my son all about double standards as well as to respect where other people are coming from. He enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a family and area that was very diverse. Because of this he also enjoyed the privilege of not being exposed to white supremacist hate. He had no idea just how disgusting that word is. His only personal experience with it was hanging out with his friends and using it as a form of “smack talk”. To his crowd, they just didn’t see why everyone made such a big deal out of a word. It was just a word.

He needed to learn that prior generations used that word completely differently. He would just have to wait until all those folks died off and his generation was the ruling old folk class and then they could all use that damn word as much as they like. But for now, the word is offensive. It’s history is offensive. As long as my generation is still alive and running the show, he better only use that word in private.

As far as double standards were concerned, the purpose of the policy was to create an environment of respect. The school was not going to practice a double standard and let a black student say a word the school would not allow students of other races to say. I was going to support the school’s decision to enforce the policy because the gringa was also not going to raise her son up to live a double standard. Allowing or disallowing a particular behavior simply based on skin color is racism.

I asked him if I allowed this word to be spoken in my home or in my presence outside the home. He admitted I did not. I told him he was to respect the authority of the school and not say it just as he respected my authority and did not use it around me.

As the United States continues to deal with race issues today, I support almost every cause against injustice of any kind against any people being singled out for race, ethnicity, religion or financial status. Wrong is wrong and right is right. You’re either a racist or you’re not a racist. It’s very simple. Morality knows no racial, religious or financial barriers.

As a person battles for their cause, it is important to remember exactly what your are fighting for or fighting against. If you are fighting for racial justice, do not make the mistake of becoming a racist yourself. Personal rage and frustration is perfectly understandable, but it cannot cloud your judgment and then hijack your movement. Racists come in all color, genders, and ethnicities. If you find yourself behaving in a way that you in turn point the finger at another and accuse them of wrongdoing, you may be a racist. You are most definitely a hypocrite. It’s very simple.

1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a.k.a. the Simpson-Mazzoli Act


And what was going on in the United States in 1986 besides big hair, parachute pants, the Iran-Contra debacle of the Reagan administration, and Falco, the one hit wonder with “Rock Me Amadeus”? Well, Congress was getting together with President Reagan for his signature on the new immigration reform bill called the “Simpson-Mazzoli Act”. Considering this mammoth piece of legislative effort contains over 41,000 words, the gringa will stick to the facts that resulted in significant change for the immigrant and American society.

It is interesting to note that today’s “undocumented worker” was yesterday’s “illegal alien” and also was the “unauthorized alien” of the 80’s. These immigrants who were already present in the country in 1986 could apply and gain legal status according to certain guidelines:

  • Immigrants had to provide proof of residency and employment since January 1, 1982
  • Immigrants had to have a clean criminal record (a felony and/or 3+ misdemeanors got you the reject notice)
  • Immigrants had to provide proof of registering with Selective Service
  • Immigrants had to meet a minimal level of understanding of U.S. history, government and the English language or be enrolled in these courses of study (if you were 65 years old or older they let you slide on this requirement).
  • Immigrants must apply within 18 months of the passage of the bill

The bill also contained provisions of temporary resident travel so these new temporary resident aliens could legally return to their countries of origin and visit family and return to the United States. The gringa is proud of this particular provision and the humanitarian recognition by the United States of maintaining healthy family bonds and connections. The Attorney General also had the freedom to waive certain requirements if it was in the interest of family unity. The gringa is certain that the United States is on the right track here.

Once an immigrant became a lawful temporary U.S. resident, they were disqualified from federally funded public welfare for five years. The gringa is sure this provision was included to satisfy the xenophobes who just KNEW these folks only wanted to come to America in order to freeload! However, individual State programs that had National School Lunch programs, vocational education programs, Headstart programs, and their own health services, as well as Social Security benefits individuals may qualify for, were not prohibited.

Because this immigration reform legalized many workers, the bill outlawed the practice of any employer hiring an unauthorized alien. However, enforcement of this provision was to be deferred during agricultural seasonal services. Hey, when the country’s gotta eat, we should all just look away, right? The gringa then must ask, “What’s an immigrant hopeful to think?” I mean really, come on, think this one through with some common sense. If it was common knowledge within the immigrant community the U.S. law meant that you could enter undocumented and law enforcement would simply ignore you if you happened to arrive at the right time of the year, what would you do? If you are an opportunity deprived and economically oppressed individual, you choose the cheapest, shortest and quickest way to get into the land of opportunity. You enter during the agricultural harvest season when the nation puts out the welcome mat and simply stay. You keep your head down part of the year and walk around boldly the rest of the year. The United States is in no position to criticize immigrants for taking advantage of the law of the land! The nation can’t be willing to turn a blind eye when it’s convenient for their belly then turn around and point the finger and blame the immigrant and ask them, “What the hell are you doing here?!”

Migrant agricultural workers who entered the nation seasonally were considered separate from the unauthorized aliens who met the above conditions. The migrant workers had a different visa with different qualifying guidelines. For the xenophobes who complain that immigrants come to this country and steal American jobs, consider this requirement of migrant worker guidelines: “Requires an employer H-2A visa petition to certify that: (1) there are not enough local U.S. workers for the job; and (2) similarly employed U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions will not be adversely affected.” It seems that plenty of jobs are available in the agricultural industry but Americans refuse the opportunity. So, don’t be pointing the “Stealing American Jobs” finger at the immigrant. This provision put the American first only allowing immigrants to fill the position when Americans refused. Also, fearful xenophobes, consider President Reagan’s 1977 radio broadcast statement, ““It makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do?” Way back then even the Gipper got it! Anti-immigration folks are recycling the same old arguments and, time after time, they are proven wrong.

One interesting stipulation regarding discrimination has the gringa scratching her head and tsk-tsking. The bill says it would be considered “unfair” for an employer to discriminate against an individual in hiring practices based on origin or citizenship. However, it would be considered NOT “unfair” if an employer preferred to hire a U.S. citizen or national rather than an equally qualified resident alien. The gringa asks, “Does not one of these statements negate the other?” Geniuses and Washington, the two do not go hand in hand. The gringa says, “Just one more law in favor of American laborers and protecting their right to work over the immigrant to use in an argument to shut up and shut down the anti-immigrant xenophobe crowd.” Mmph, take that!

For migrant workers, though, there was still an option to obtain residency status. During the 18 month registration period established by this bill, if they worked 90 days within one year in the agricultural industry they qualified for temporary residency and could travel between the U.S. and their country of origin. During the first five years of their new status, migrant workers are considered “eligible legalized aliens” and do have access to Federal assistance as well as state assistance for the first five years of their new status. Migrant workers were also entitled to legal assistance.

Cuban and Haitian entrants were granted permanent resident status if they arrived before January 1, 1982. This was because many of these immigrants were political refugees.

Considering the disaster of American children whose native mother was not married to an American G.I. and was left behind in Indochina in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Cambodia conflict, the gringa is pleased to find that the U.S. was more socially evolved in 1986. Children qualified for status, benefits and privileges if even one parent obtains resident status, regardless of the marital position of the child’s parents.

All in all, close to 3 million immigrants were legalized. This is a significant chapter in American immigration history. However, according to the numbers, about 2 million unauthorized aliens were left running around America without proper “authorization”. Some of these didn’t qualify, so, everyone just assumed they would eventually get deported. Others would have qualified but didn’t know a thing about the program. No one really had a back up plan for this eventuality. The gringa is not surprised. I’m sure Reagan and Congress thought, “We’ve done enough. That headache can be for the next administration.” Yes, U.S. government, how the wheels turn.

Critics of this legislation called it “amnesty”.  The real definition of amnesty is “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses”. The gringa’s not sure that the term “amnesty” applies. Perhaps a better term for a path to citizenship would be “the right thing” or, maybe, “the smart thing” or, “humanity at its best”. Regardless of what you call it, there were plenty of critics then and now who considered it a big, fat failure because illegal immigrants poured into the country after its passage. The fantasy was, the gringa supposes, that politicians thought after the passage of this bill, somehow, by some miracle, there would never be another unauthorized alien that would enter the country. The gringa can only guess that perhaps they thought the immigrants that were here were the only ones that would ever want to be here and no other immigrants would arrive in the future. What a bunch of dummies.

The gringa thinks they should have expected immigrant hopefuls around the world to jump up and take notice and point their finger toward America, wide-eyed as they exclaimed, “DID YOU SEE THAT! THAT COULD BE ME!” And off they go, running as fast as their little foreign feet can carry them to the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. With a path to citizenship laid out and easy to qualify for, of course hopefuls would hotfoot it across the border if given the chance.

The gringa thinks the problem was not with the legislation. The gringa thinks the problem was with the lack of preparedness. It should have been, sign the bill then yell, “Katie, bar the door!” They should have seen it coming! Big sillies! They needed to have a stronger presence on the border. Why didn’t they? Money, of course. Even though there was a provision to beef up border security by 50%, it seems they still didn’t spend enough money! Or, quite possibly, as often happens in bureaucracies, the money was mismanaged. All you xenophobes who are crying about border security, well, its gonna cost you. Are you willing to pay? That means taxes to fund it. Take a look at your paycheck stub. Are you still willing to pay?

Another reason illegals continued to flood into the country is because the framers just weren’t good planners. The bill was not a failure as critics claim when they point to the fact that illegal immigration was never eradicated, but actually increased. It’s because the bill didn’t go far enough. It never occurred to the framers of the legislation that the country might just continue to grow and need more laborers. Just like any good capitalist free market system ruled by supply and demand, the U.S. labor market demanded laborers and the nation’s southern neighbors were only too happy to supply them. And that is the very reason we need immigration reform now. Most of these people are here to work and raise their families and educate themselves and their children. They need to be able to come out of the shadows and live with security as proud American citizens.

For today’s critics of amnesty who treat it like it’s a dirty word, listen to the words of a wise humanitarian: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Ronald Reagan, in a 1984 televised debate with Walter Mondale. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson’s opinion on amnesty? “Anybody who’s here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights.” How do today’s Republicans feel about Obama’s efforts to bring about meaningful immigration reform? Well, just listen to what Mitch McConnell had to say: “…take amnesty off the table…”

So, then, what really happens with the issue of immigration reform? Politicians stick to their tried-and-true methods of old. When their voter base is raising hell, but the politician is too afraid to tackle the realities of legislation that affects the lives of millions of people, they worry more about getting re-elected. They don’t really care about the plight of an oppressed, unrepresented class of people who are not registered to vote. It is safer for the politician to stir up constituents with anger toward the immigrant so the voters won’t ask for immigration reform, but, rather, just scream for mass deportation. But, the politician doesn’t want to do that either. I mean, think about it. If cowardly politicians actually started deporting people, deportees may have loved ones in the community that DO vote. Politicians don’t want to risk losing that potential vote. If the politician treads the murky waters of immigration reform with legalization in mind, he alienates xenophobes, racists and labor unions from his voter base. If he goes hard line on immigration reform, he risks alienating the voters of ethnic groups who see members of their own national origin being rounded up and oppressed. What’s a vote-hungry, cowardly politician to do? He continues to stir up fear, because fear mongering directs everyone to the subject of border control. It’s much safer for the politician to support funding of border security than deal with millions of human beings. So, basically, the United States never sees meaningful immigration reform because the politicians are cowards.

The gringa remains hopeful that in Obama’s lame duck years he will deliver on immigration reform because he doesn’t give a hoot about pandering for a vote. He is in the strongest position to do the right thing. He has managed to deliver on some other controversial, hot button issues. The gringa still has faith and sits on the edge of her seat to see what happens. In closing, the gringa defers to the wise words of President Reagan who remained a friend to the immigrant to the very day he left office in 1989 when he said this: “I’ve spoken of a shining city all my political life but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1986_immigration_reform_and_control_act.html

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d099:SN01200:@@@L&summ2=m&% 7CTOM:/bss/d099query.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/in-1986-congress-tried-to-solve-immigration-why-didnt-it-work/

http://asu.news21.com/archive/2009/the_first_immigration_amnesty/

http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/1986-amnesty/story?id=18971179

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/irca.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128303672

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