"A LIEN," in Merriam Webster's dictionary, denotes someone/thing: 1 a : belonging or relating to another person, place, or thing : STRANGE b : relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government : FOREIGN 2 : differing in nature or character typically to the point of incompatibility. The Department of Homeland Security estimates there are nearly 12 million permanent legal aliens in the United States. There are millions more who are temporary or illegal, or who want to come, but are being detained and denied entry because the very nature of their strangeness puts the true residents of this country at risk.
Is it because they are "incompatible" with the rest of us? No. They are doctors and lawyers and farmers and business owners and inventors and parents. And they are artists.
Some are citizens from Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and numerous Muslim and Arab countries, whom politicians deem unsavory merely because of their nationality. But, under new U.S. Homeland Security regulations, they are also citizens of allied countries such as Canada and Britain, who now--in addition to being thoroughly scrutinized--have the added courtesy of being fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed as to their who's, where's, how long's and, most importantly, why's.
In a recent Toronto Star article, executive director Phyllis Barney of Maryland's North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance commented on the effects these regulations are having on overseas artists.
"The whole arts community is on tenterhooks about the interrogation and fingerprinting process," she said. "It has had a chilling effect among world renowned artists, [among] all the males and a small percentage of females, from [overseas] countries who have to apply for work visas up to eight months in advance, and who now have to endure the added assumption of criminality at border crossings. It's something bookers and agents are having a hard time advising artists to put themselves through."
A disclosure: My parents were "resident aliens" for over two decades. Upstanding folks, they worked hard, got an advanced education, raised seven kids who went to--and graduated from--college, and paid their taxes. Oh yeah, and they waited. Waited for many, many years, to gain a citizenship that would afford them the benefits and privileges enjoyed by millions of other American citizens, and remove that alien classification from their resident status.
Many foreigners who visit this country often have to start from scratch, have to prove their worth. Their degrees aren't good enough; their contributions aren't good enough; their English isn't good enough. It is still okay to suggest that people "go back to their own country" or (my own personal favorite) "Learn English!" (Though many residents from foreign countries speak much better English than Americans ever have).
It is a real problem when a nation of immigrants--a country built on and by illegal aliens--welcomes other immigrants by first labeling them as alien and strange. How free are we when we have to point out how restricted our visitors are?
Yes, there is a growing concern as to whether the nation's residents will outgrow the nation's mainland. Yes, there are jobs at stake (?!!?); yes overpopulation is the new agenda. But hasn't true democracy always been about the exchange, circulation and freedom of diverse ideas, thoughts, cultures and beliefs? And are we so content that we have enough of this diversity within our boundaries that we never have to interact with other peoples outside our borders? Are we?
In the following pages, you'll find stories about some of the overseas artists you will not be seeing this year, or for many years to come, at your local arts venues. Victims of bureaucracy--whether in their own countries or ours--they are increasingly choosing to forego the hassle of attaining visas to visit or perform in the United States. For some people, this may be OK. But as the children of immigrants and the residents of a nation of immigrants, it is never okay to put a cap on the freedom of expression, the continuing dialogue of cultures.
We're missing out, y'all. And it doesn't take a legal genius to figure that one out.
Fall Guide 2004:
No show tonight
Theater and Dance by Byron Woods
Music by Grayson Currin
World Stage Without the World
World Music by Sylvia Pfeiffenberger
The fall of Law
National Movie Releases Preview by Todd Lothery
Falling out with the multiplexes
Local movie venues by Neil Morris