I am a refuge, I am an immigrant, I am a colonizer, I am an exploiter, I am a victim, I am a murderer, I am a winner and I am a loser.
Neither metaphorically, nor solely out of empathy or solidarity, do I speak this but as a statement of fact. Biologically, I am a product of my ancestors, what they did, and how they adapted to their experiences. The sum total of it all was passed down in my genome and epigenome to me.
It’s not just biological. We ourselves, those we love, and all who came before us have lived out diverse and seemingly contradictory potentials. Through our family history, in our own lifetime, over the course of a single year, or even a day, all history informs our cells and awareness that no one always wins, and no one always loses.
A native friend of mine often says that Americans don’t respect their elders. It must indeed seem strange to someone growing up in a tribal culture that respected all that comes before to witness the rootlessness of a nation of immigrants (and their descendants) who aggressively claim a compensatory entitlement to do, to take, to have — and to be anything, no matter what.
If I accept the fiction that I (or anyone) is self-created, (or ever could be) than I disown my life force connection to my own forebears, people who suffered, survived, and struggled so that I could take life and be here right now.
When I stand on a rock and declare my self as the highest accomplishment, as we Americans are want to do, it insults memory and severs me from all those other folks who benefited my ancestors and me. In my unknowingness, I weaken the blessing of their gifts to me. What about all those whom I, my ancestors, or my country undid so that I could prosper? If I deny my own entangled roots to pretend that I stand here so fabulously on my own, I insult the very ground I walk upon, I weaken and fragment myself, so that I need more and more and more to compensate. In this obliteration of the garden of consequences that grew me, I also forget what I share with— and owe to others.
Entitlement, disconnection, and un-rootedness all go together.
American’s ancestors made huge sacrifices. They uprooted themselves. They left all that was familiar and comforting behind. Language, food, custom, landscape, relatives, neighbors, beliefs. They did this to give their children a chance in a new land. And yet American culture hypnotizes us into pretending that you and I unicycled into the present all on our own. We were prey to this mythology precisely because we forgot where we came from.
When we reject the bygone wisdom of our foreign accented elders, we get enlisted into the myth of perpetual progress to define ourselves as far and above all other folks. Some people, even the children or the spouses of immigrants, forget that centuries of interdependence are the bedrock for all our lives, and without that bedrock, we die.
In this uprooted and amnesiac state, it becomes easier to get suckered into dwelling in a false, shiny, flat screen present, with the dangling potential for unlimited future success— in place of humbly knowing ourselves to be nothing more than the most recent nuance emerging from a multi-millennial ferment engendered by the natural world— and as vulnerable as a earthworm.
Without knowing who we are, where we come from, and who and what feeds us constantly that we may live, a nation of the self-created and uprooted, of the faking it “‘til making it,” will even persecute those who are the current day refugees their own ancestors once were. In turning on any immigrant or refugee, the descendants of immigrants disrespect and break faith with their own ancestors.
This is the root of the contagion seen at the leadership levels of this country all this past year. It escalates now so radically among the insular billionaires that it becomes vital to name the disease. What we call “crazy,” this contrived inflation that we can hardly bear to watch, signifies an auto-immune condition. That which is armored in defensiveness, ultimately vampirizes itself. Self-hatred and self-obliteration hide behind the Botoxed mask. What over-reacts attacks its own tissues.
Those so deeply afflicted rush to purge the healing medicine offered by this land’s native peoples— people who actually have coursing through their veins, and enlivened in their heart-minds that which deracinated immigrants so desperately lack— the multigenerational wisdom, the life force, and solidarity of deep rooted connection to a place, to other beings, to family, to elders, to ancestors, to the earth, and to life.
The medicine is encoded in the message, “Water is Life.”
It’s not just a meme. It’s an elixir arising from deep within the earth to heal the collective illness. It alone can quench the thirst of immigrant descendants inhabiting an arid present with no past and hence no future.
Entitlement is embedded in the cultural agreement to look away from anything that resurrects the severed interconnection and restores accountability.
Only by honoring you, my immigrant ancestors will I find the humble place here that is mine to have. Only by rectifying the four hundred year old debt of gratitude owed you, oh indigenous elders, for your welcome, and your unceasing guardianship of the earth and the water that keeps us all alive—can we heal the affliction that is upon us.
Let us embrace each other as relatives, and return to new forms of right relationship.
Let us bend low to the parents, the elders, the ancestors, the indigenous peoples, and the earth who came before us.
May our great-great- grandchildren tell stories of the time that their great-great-grandparents wept and atoned and prayed and recalled their own history and found myriad ways to thank and honor the descendants of those who first welcomed the earliest ancestors to this beautiful land.
Water is life.