Tyler Rowland and Cynthia Lindstrom

We still are ruled too much by ready-made phrases. Take for example: If you cross the US border without permission, you’re illegal. There’s a good old maxim; we all believe it in theory. Yet when the undocumented worker’s child crosses the border, they begin to see themselves as citizens. They grow up with the idea well fixed. So naturally, when their time comes and they find, as they do pretty often, that they are not citizens in their own country, their noses are conventionally out of joint. They whisper: These overbearing modern politicians, they insist on bossing the show, and they’re absolutely in the wrong.

What we have to beware of is mass thinking. The ideas that human beings are either American or not are just mass ideas. No people really believe this for themselves. They accept it en bloc, as a member of the mass. They are both, so to speak, tightly swaddled up in it, like a lamb in its wool. In fact, we are born so wooly and swaddled up in mass ideas, that we hardly get a chance to move, to make a real move of our own. We just bleat foolishly out of a mass of wooly cloud, our mass-ideas, and we get no further. A human being living in the United States of America without papers is illegal. Feed the lobo. An American’s land is his or her private property. Two day laborers are better than one. Happy are the commuters who have their own domestic cars in their own three-car garages. It is the duty of the worker to give their boss what they want. It is the duty of the worker to say, “Yes, Sir!” to his or her superiors; all these are mass ideas, often contradicting one another, but always effective. If you want to silence someone effectively, trot out a mass idea. The poor sheep is at once mum.

Now the thing to do with a mass idea is to individualize it. Instead of massively asserting: A human being living in the United States of America without papers is illegal in their own home, the person in question should particularize and say: I, Consuela, must be illegal in my own home, this room at The Paradise Motel or the 120,000 square miles of the Sonoran Desert, under my landlord, Mr. Granger, because I don’t have any papers. —And as soon as you make it personal, and drag it to earth, you will feel qualm about it. You storm over the cold breakfast coffee: A human being living in the United States without papers is illegal! But it takes much more energy to say: Mi nombre Americano es Connie, and I don’t have any papers so I must be illegal in my own home, this room at The Paradise Motel, under your radar, Mr. Granger, my landlord! —This is bringing things to an issue. And these days things are so rarely brought. Our lord and master Jesus Cristo fumes with a mass idea, and the boss and his superiors fume with a mass resentment, and the mingled fumings make a nice mess of the room rented by-the-week—cash only—at The Paradise Motel.

As a matter of fact, when Connie begins to look into her own heart, and also to look around her room at The Paradise Motel, which is her home, firmly in the eye, she finds—O shattering discovery! —that she has very little desire to be illegal in her own home at The Paradise Motel. On the contrary, the idea rather nauseates her. And when she looks at Mr. Granger calmly sipping his second cup of coffee, she finds, if she’s the usual Connie, that her desire to be illegal in this land under that man is curiously non-existent.

And there’s the difference between a mass idea and a real individual thinking. A human being must be legal in their own home. And Connie greets the idea of being legal in The Paradise Motel with great urgency, and the idea of feeling safe around the hot-tempered Mr. Granger now moves her. She cares about The Paradise Motel’s communal pool and whether its crystal blue and clean or not. And she cares about what Mr. Granger does with his day, while she’s away at her job. Her requests of him are few and simple: be a pleasant proprietor, respect her privacy, and give her no trouble when she returns home to count out the rent in one neat pile before him. —That is, if she’s the ordinary Connie.

So that a woman being legal in her own home creates momentum when the woman is empowered by the prospect of her freedom. And that’s the best of individual ideas: they take flight, like Common Grackles, when the life that is given them is harnessed for positive change. The problem today of a woman being illegal in her own home is a major problem, really, because the woman is a human being and she deserves the same rights granted to all citizens. She needs to feel safe and accepted; because only when she is valued as a human being will her individual ideas triumph over the mass ideas that the media spouts, and then those hateful and harmful fumes will be extinguished!

We may no longer accept the mass idea, that whenever an undocumented worker finds employment, a job is taken from an American citizen. It is not rapacity and pushing on the worker’s part. It is lethargy and careless indifference on the part of the American citizen. American citizens don’t really care to rise at dawn for minimum wage. Forgotten are the Haymarket Affair, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the “Lowell Mill Girls” organizing in Massachusetts, the Homestead Act of 1862, and the nonvoting immigrants throughout history who filled jobs too perilous for most Americans. Picking cotton in Green Valley, cantaloupes in Eloy; laying dry wall in Gila Bend; cleaning five-star hotel rooms in Scottsdale—Americans don’t do that. So undocumented workers flood into the vacuum. If we get a Congress removed of anti-immigrant thinking, it will be purely and simply for the reason that all American citizens, passionate Americans, are no longer indifferent to the plight of our common forebears; they now care about being a humane member of society and speaking up for laws that protect all workers, regardless of their immigration status.

Empowerment is a strange thing. It lies there under all the mass thinking and the mass activity, like a rock spring in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Some of us still make a great fuss about Democracy—yet flying under the radar, most undocumented workers are cognizant of its power for change in ways that American citizens are not. The Congress’ passing of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is regularly spoken of with anticipation over the dinner table. All the fuss about buying your own home and providing your children with a college education: and flying under the radar, undocumented workers are equally passionate about providing secure homes and investing in their children’s futures. They are no longer willing to endure the media blame game and willful neglect of American politicians and American citizens.

Empowerment means to give someone the power or authority to do something—in this case--to speak out against those who threaten a human’s inalienable rights. Indifference is the inability to care; it is the result of a certain lethargy or numbness. And it is nearly always accompanied by the pinch of anxiety. American citizens, who can’t care anymore, feel anxious about the dark-skinned stranger standing next to him or her in the supermarket. They have no purpose. They are thankful if their elected citizens will do their caring. And at the same time they resent the politician’s caring and running the show.
The trouble is not in the politician’s actions, but in the citizen’s indifference. This indifference is the real malady of the day. It is lethargy, an inability to rise and care about anything. And it is always pinched by anxiety.

And when does empowerment arise? It arises from having cared too much, from having cared about the right thing in the immediate present. If there is a past of indifference to American politics on the part of its citizens, it is because Americans have not cared enough about their inalienable human rights and the rights of others. When Mr. Granger is no longer indifferent to the tenants of his little property, The Paradise Motel, if he now welcomes the Consuleas of the world, that is because he is recalling the stories of his mother and grandmother making their own little homes in a new land, and their struggles become Consuela’s struggles. If human beings don’t care about other human beings, nowadays, and leave them to fend for themselves, the struggles of our mothers and grandmothers are no longer revered—yet what if, in fact, they are—and so our natural inclination towards compassion grows stronger, until we can once again remember its weight atop our shoulders.

How often do we leave change to politicians? What we need to do is revisit the abandoned battlefield. We must pick up the swords and spears we have used against fellow human beings and turn them into ploughshares and pruning hooks.

And then human beings, no longer gnawed by the anxiety of their own indifference, have no need to reiterate mass ideas like parrots. “Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave” are no longer just mindless propaganda but heartfelt mottos to live by. America is a new world for all of those brave souls who leave their past lives and come to our borders seeking a new life with the simple promise: No human being living in the United States of America should feel alien in their own land.

About the authors:

Tyler Rowland is a New York-based artist. He is currently working on an exhibition and catalog, Jean Baguenault Vieville: Yves Klein’s Doppelganger, about the real man known as Klein’s fictitious painter "Haguenault".

Cynthia Lindstrom is a Honolulu-based writer. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in literary publications in Australia and the United States. She is finishing her first novel, Pañuelos, set in the American Southwest where she grew up.