RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Don’t Let Fear and Hate Win

Sometimes, I can write a column in a couple of hours. The subject is clear and the words come easily, or there’s a lot of data on the subject and I can access the arguments quickly.

This one is different. More personal, I guess. Maybe it’s the high learning curve we’ve all been on. Too many changes in too short time.

Within days of Hillary’s concession, I started hearing about friends who plan to leave the country. A few of these — newcomers to our land who are perhaps “undocumented” — are really scared. So I decided to write for them. Something like this:

Dear Friend:

I know you’re frightened, and that you go to bed scared there will be a knock on the door and someone will force you out of your home, into a bus or into the street and that you’ll have to leave everything immediately. So I won’t add to your fear by using your name or the place you came from. I won’t refer to where you were born, where you live now or how old you are or your job or how many kids you have or don’t have.

Instead, I’m calling you friend, because even though we’re very different I have grown to depend on you for the things that friends do for each other. We laugh at the same things. You invite me to your dances and you join ours. We teach each other. In this society where things like technology and culture are always changing, we’re both immigrants and often you’re ahead of me on the learning curve. Thank you for being generous with your knowledge.

What I want to say is how much I’ll miss you and we all will miss you and I want to apologize for misleading you to think that the American dream is still alive and a person can come from a war-torn, scary place and feel safe and welcomed and build a home here. We gave you (as we always do) the lowest-paying, dirtiest jobs and the worst living conditions and we let bullies mock you for the ways you talk, dress, eat. Starting now, we will tell immigrants of the future not to come at all.

Now you should know that I am scared also. The night that I heard you were leaving, I dreamed that I lost my most precious possession and I couldn’t find it anywhere. In my dream, I looked in all the rooms of my house and in the car, the truck, the barn, the organic bakery, the movie theatre — all the places I go. It was nowhere. When I woke up, of course, it was snuggled next to the piano in a normal place, just as normal as could be. But the fear was still with me.

I take that to mean that we will be poorer when you’re gone. To be honest, I had looked forward to hearing the notes and the beats that you would bring, just like the seasonings you’ve added to my soups and salads. Every new group has brought their music — the Irish, the French, the Germans, the Africans, the Spanish — all added to the American sounds. My husband learned one of your songs, wrote it down phonetically; he thinks it means, “I am the King. I am the King.” When we’ve watched the news and are overwhelmed, he walks around the house singing it, relishing the odd syllables. Neither of us really know what the words mean. It’s just a fun sound.

Your leaving means that we’ll never know the true meaning of the syllables or whether there are more verses. We thought we’d ask next time we see you. But now … will we ever see you again? Will we ever know more of your song?

OK. Well. Enough of that. We need to be strong. There are children involved. And you need to find a place to begin again. Let it be safe and peaceful and welcoming. Not like the place you were born and not disappointing.

The hardest part about writing a column is the ending and this one’s no different. As I write, it looks like The Donald is backing off some of his flamboyant promises … but no waffling on the deportation plans. At any rate, damage has been done and people are afraid. The racism and xenophobic anger has made it OK for racists and xenophobes to act out.

I wasn’t really concerned after the Donald’s election, because I figured there’d be a lot of smart associates who would rein him in. But the selection of his transition team has drawn some lines across our society that I thought were disappearing.

So I don’t know how to end this letter except to say that, for the sake of the future, we cannot let fear and hate win in our communities. We must be involved at every level to pick up the pieces and re-build the America we want.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2016

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