Saturday, August 22, 2015

Farm Bulletin: An "Anchor Baby" Speaks Out

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm jumps into the current political debate about so-called "anchor babies," an offensive term meant to define individuals who were born in the United States to foreign nationals. These children became U.S. citizens by virtue of their birthright—as prescribed in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.*

A personal note:

I grew up in a country where I was an untarnished citizen, even though my parents were immigrants. Courtesy of the 14th Amendment, the fact that I was conceived in another country and neither of my parents were citizens didn't matter a whit. I registered to vote and attended town meetings, and have never shrunk from participating in the messy business of government. Over the years, I have missed just one special election, even voting when the election involves just a handful of unopposed individuals and might be dismissed as unimportant. To the people who bother to get on the ballot the vote is always important.

Today, I am what the nativists call an "anchor baby," a child born to immigrants but still entitled to citizenship. Or as some put it charmingly, a "child who was dropped in America." In fact, under the immigration rules in force back in the 1950s, my mother had to hide her pregnancy during the immigration interview or they would have been denied entry. Mother succeeded and I was born three months later, the first United States citizen in the Boutard tribe.

For the last 17 years, I have had the pleasure of working with a variety of immigrants whose children were born here, and are citizens in the fullest meaning of the word. Like me, their children had no choice regarding the location of their conception or birth. Unlike me, they are having their citizenship called into question at a critical time in their lives. Fifteen years ago, I was brought up short by a 16-year old woman who, when I asked for her resident alien card, snapped back that she was a citizen and provided her passport. I apologized for my assumption and smiled explaining that my parents also carried resident alien cards, easing the tension. Since then, my assumption has changed. The truth is that both of us knew that no one ever assumed I wasn't a citizen. I have registered to vote in four different states and no one has ever asked for proof of citizenship, even though as a child of immigrants I bear a touch of an accent. And when I was a youngster, no one ever told me I wasn't welcome in this country because my parents were aliens.

Children of immigrants from non-English speaking countries encounter a special challenge. They often have to serve as translators and intermediaries for their parents. This is true whether their parents come from the Ukraine, Poland, Japan, Vietnam, Sierra Leone, Iran or Mexico. They are a fragile bridge between their parents and everyday life, between two spheres of authority. They translate contracts, fill in forms and roll with the patronizing English-speaking adults. They should earn our praise and support, a kind word, not our petty slurs.

One of Francois Truffaut's later films, Small Change, deals with the travails of children in society. He deftly and humorously examines the callous way we treat children and the affronts they suffer at the hands of adults. The fact that our political discourse has dipped back into the wallow of "anchor babies" is very dispiriting, and underscores Truffaut's point that we crap on children all too often and all too easily.

* Definition provided by my friend John Kanelis, editorial writer at High Plains Blogger.


Jessica said...

Thanks for sharing Anthony's perspective. It is a great reminder to strive to be more open-minded and less quick to make assumptions.

Kathleen Bauer said...

And, I might add, to recognize code words for prejudice when we hear them! Thanks, Jessica.