My fiance and I are a binational couple and we’re entrenched in the process of obtaining a visa so he can come to the US (can you lend us your support?), but it’s a long process–mostly because of mismanagement (because if there’s any other reason why one USCIS service center can do the same job as the other in a tenth of the time, they haven’t told us what it is), so–me given the advocate I am–it seems an awesome place to start a movement.
So I did.
And immediately I got shot down–by the very people stuck waiting with me.
I was struck by conflicting emotions of heartache and rejection and anger. People in my same position were shouting at me that immigration isn’t a right but it’s a privilege, that our problems are nothing in comparison to others trying to immigrate, that I had no place to complain since the process for married couples takes longer than for fiance visas.
I’ll concede that immigration is a privilege, but that doesn’t mean we can’t (or shouldn’t) fight for equal access to privileges–in fact, dismantling many systems of privilege should be a key component of any social justice advocate. However, regardless of this distinction, it doesn’t change the fact that some couples wait ten months for what other couples receive in four weeks for no other reason than where they live. That’s a failure of basic equity and certainly an injustice of due process.
And, yes, I know there are those far worse off than us, I know very well that immigration for fiances and married couples is by far the fastest and least expensive path to the US. I hadn’t known that the process for married couples was longer, but trust me, I think that’s just as wrong and if my fiance and I were on that track, I’d be fighting to change it, too.
The most stinging part was that these responses projected a sense of selfishness onto me and superiority onto their writers–that by wanting to make the system more equitable for each of us, that I was being impatient or I was saying I doubt the strength of me and my fiance’s relationship to last through another year apart.
Simply for trying to do something to help all of us, they were personally attacking me.
I toyed around with these ideas in a poem I wrote this morning called “Change and Resistance,” supposing that perhaps their resistance to change came in the sense of pride that waiting makes them better than others or that by not stirring the pot, they somehow are more upstanding citizens than the rest of us.
Then I thought a little longer, and I realized resistance to change is the natural state of not just human affairs, but the entire universe.
In any given moment, every possible path a light particle can follow is plotted out before it, and without fail it always follows the path of least energy–the path of least resistance. This aversion to change on any scale is inherited from the very dawn of time, from all the star-stuff that coagulated into each of us.
So I can’t blame them. It’s hard to change, and for many of us there’s a grave vulnerability in moving forward with our relationships. I was perfectly content before Harel and I met in person for the first time–but I was terrified when I finally bought my plane tickets because suddenly I had to face the reality that instead of being partners at a distance, we’d be in the same room. That, my friend, changes everything.
And it did–we discovered that our love for each other existed on many more dimensions than the sole window of our computer screens. Binational couples don’t always go through this, though: sometimes they meet online, other times they meet during travel, so the point that inverts their relationship is that initial parting–but they learn to bare the distance. We all do. In fact, we learn it so well, there develops a second layer of vulnerability–the fear that we’re so good at a distance, we won’t survive living in the same room.
So any effort to make the system more equitable means this safety net of extraneous patience is cut away and if we fall, we’ve got nothing to land on.
It’s terrifying. These people are the ones we’ve pledged to live our lives with–our fiances and spouses, our rocks, our soul mates and stability. Any threat to these bastions of identity is an assault on the soul of who we are and who we wish to be.
So I forgive them for their resistance. It’s ingrained in who they are, in what they are, and I’ve felt it myself. But the suggestion, by a few posters, that there are bigger problems and bigger injustices that make this insignificant really bothered me. It projects a sense of heroism on the world that asserts only the most magnificent feats are worthwhile, that only the jump from hell to heaven has any meaning.
I’m not down with that. For far too long (and longer still, as I struggle through this every day), I’ve fought against the ingrown belief that I am inadequate, that I am insignificant, that I am worthless. It’s not guilt that I’ve done something wrong, it’s shame that I am something wrong. It’s debilitating, numbing, crushing. I collapse when I enter a room, I curl in upon myself because against every other person, I feel like a mass of nothing.
These last few years have brought this shame to the forefront of my being, have made me experience failure on a scale I had never imagined possible–had never allowed myself a chance to experience, never allowed myself the chance to believe it could be overcome. I have broken myself time and time again, I have fallen apart and struggled to pull myself together, and I’m not all together whole at the moment either. I spent an hour today just watching inspirational TED talks about reinventing ourselves through body language, about vulnerability, about shame–and every video struck a nail deeper into the coffin I’ve buried myself in. One breath, two breaths, how many more until I suffocate myself?
So when someone said that fighting for accountability, fighting for equal processing times, fighting for proper management was selfish and insignificant, my whole body fought back because that’s the same reasoning that I’ve been using to berate myself for not graduating with a 4.0 GPA, for not achieving all my goals, for feeling as if I always come up too short.
I finished reading Tim Wise’s White Like Me not too long ago, and he recounted a tale from his days as a community organizer in which he was baffled by how important one community made their fight for a simple traffic light. In a discourse on institutional racism and systemic class inequity, the importance of a traffic light seemed negligible. But it’s a lot easier to say I’m going to get this traffic light installed than it is to say I’m going to topple a system of oppression that’s existed for hundreds of years. The latter will instantly throw you down and sweep you under, but the former leaves some space for hope and growth.
I would love nothing more than to see our immigration system fixed. It’s not going to happen overnight and I’ll be upfront and tell you I don’t know everything that’s wrong with it and I don’t know what’s needed to fix it. But what I do know, in this small corner of the system I’ve gotten to know, there is a blatant injustice that can be fixed. And perhaps with this victory, we can move on to other fights–making the process for married couples comparable to the process for fiances, and from there, spreading outward until every part of the immigration system has been properly reformed.
But if we shoot down every advocate who’s trying to start small and only praise those who try to do it all (in one fell swoop), all we’re advocating for is failure. All we obtain is a renewed and invigorated status quo–because when we uphold these flawed notions about what constitutes significant and meaningful change, we assert the lies that we cannot influence the system, that we cannot affect change, that we cannot reshape the world.
That’s not what I’m living for, and that’s not the destiny I want to witness at my death.
Instead I want to look back and realize, however small and meaningless I might have been, I had moments of brightness, moments of catalyzing ferocity, moments of indignation that burned from my soul and started a wildfire of voices all fighting for a better world–a society truly built upon justice and equality and the genuine worth of every human life.
Sometimes we have to start small. Sometimes we have to look past our failures and grasp at those low-hanging fruit so we can climb up these same branches tomorrow, and then the day after that. Inertia is hard to overcome, and resistance is only futile because it’s an unnecessary distraction, but once we start moving, we can make it.
As I watched those TED talks, as I brooded about the blowback when the fearful and content are faced with social change, I realized the one person I have never felt afraid to share my vulnerability with is Harel. I remembered how I vowed to shape this year on the principle of bringing love into every facet of my life, but so far I’ve failed. I’ve fallen out of love, I’ve acted through anger, fear, and shame. But love has been and always will be my truest motivator. Every passion I pursue can be traced back to a foundation of love, and this is no different. Yes, I’m beginning where I am because this is where I have to start–so far me to grow into an advocate for other issues in immigration, I first need a few small victories to get me going. Normally we speak of inertia as something to overcome, but instead we can see inertia as something to build–and once we have it, it’s there.
Newton said an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, and similarly an object at rest stays at rest. I don’t want to be stationary. I want to move, to act. I want to hold onto my inertia and never stop.
Originally written June 22, 2015.