What Guides Their Moral Compass?
Today, I wanted to write about immigration, to tell my immigration story and make a case for those of us with immigration heritage to take a stand against Trump’s anti-immigration policies. But, as I write this, I have seared into my brain the image of the mother of the 17-year-old who shot and killed two protestors in Kenosha with an automatic rifle. I don’t want to get too off-topic from my original plan to write about immigration but … It’s related. I’ll explain.
When I was a beginning teacher, I remember at the end of the school year making up class lists for the students we were passing to the next grade level. We knew there would be a brand new teacher . The practice was to give that new teacher all the “problem” kids. I was appalled that we would saddle a beginning teacher with the most challenging kids. My colleague said that it was done to her, so why not do it to someone else.
I have heard this as an argument from immigrants who have gone through an arduous process of jumping through hoops to come to the US and then to bring their families over. Rather than compassion, there was antagonism towards those who find a way into the country without legal status. “If I can wait in line, they can too. ”
Why is it that I am appalled at this line of thinking? Why is it that I respond to overcoming struggles by wanting to make it better for anyone who has to go through what I went through, yet others respond with antagonism?
Why does one man try to help undocumented people trying to cross into the US through the Arizona desert by leaving them jugs of water, and another man empties those jugs of water? Why does Trump’s family separation policy break one person’s heart and hardens another one’s, unmoved by the trauma imposed on these children, blaming their parents for putting their children in this situation?
And in Kenosha, why do some people make this hateful, gun-slinging, no regard for human life choice, and others, like the two beautiful white men who were shot and killed by this militant teenager, make another, quite opposite, choice? (See, I told you it was related.)
I thought this was going to be a relatively light piece, about how funerals make you reflective and we are being denied that in these pandemic times. Even so, there is a sense of an overall funeral-like mood these days. Everything is stark — life and death, good and evil. That was my premise until I realized I was being insensitive. It is a “mood” for me — but it is real state of being for many others.
In fact, that is what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about. I don’t have to fear when I walk to the store with my arms swinging (Elijah McClain). I don’t have to fear when I get pulled over for a broken taillight (Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis ). I don’t have to fear for my life because I am protecting a monarch butterfly habitat (Homero Gómez González, Raúl Hernández Romero), or for protecting my ancestral lands (Berta Cáceres). On and on ad infinitum.
I have a place to live. I have a pension. I am safe. I am fortunate. I am privileged. I recognize that on a scale measuring real threats to peaceful existence, with 1 being no sense of fear to 100 being targeted for harm, I am a 1. It has to do with where I live (rural Hawaii, with whom I live (family), my own choice to not let unsubstantiated fear rule my life, and because I don’t leave home unless I have to. Because I am insulated, I find it useful to adopt a funeral mindset to keep me from being too complacent.
My first impulse in the beginning of pandemic life was that mask-wearing was silly, that if you are compelled to wear a mask, you think of yourself as sick, so you should stay home. I have a niece in Vietnam who wrote about her experience there and that mask-wearing was an important part of their pandemic control strategy. I told her of my resistance to mask-wearing. Not long after that, we learned that you could be a carrier and not have any signs of sickness. That was enough to make me wear a mask, and I texted my niece — You were right! It seemed so simple to me, but yet …
I have a friend, a gentle soul, an artist, who has taken on anti-maskism as his passion project. When he first started to post these ideas on Facebook, my impression of him was that he was reasonable, so I engaged by sharing my perspective. I soon found out he is committed to his position. It seems to be uniquely American, our value for individual freedom playing out for all the world to see. These fervent anti-maskers insist we are wrong, that the medical establishment is wrong, that we are not following the science.
Conflict — the stuff of drama. Because I am a playwright, I have a tendency to want to understand the innards of people who evoke conflict, to treat them like characters in a play. So, here is a character study of a particular anti-masker. Though this is inspired by real people, this character study “is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities is purely coincidental.”
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.