Embrace the World


The world may seem like a fairly ugly place right now if one only looks at the headlines. We’ve got President Trump railing about “Rocket Man” at the United Nations, and in return North Korea threatens to attack our country. There are riots in cities and on university campuses, and the mere mention of political topics tends to elicit hate filled arguments. We speak of building walls to keep people out, and watch helplessly as violence appears to be routine. Civility seems to be a thing of the past, and some might argue that it never really existed. There is much talk about how horrid our ancestors were and how much of the population is following in their footsteps. It’s enough to make one believe that we are going to hell in a hand basket, and in fact there are those who predict that the end of the world as we know it will be coming very soon.

Somehow I manage to hang on to the belief that we humans are not nearly as bad as some would have us think. I see far more signs of goodness than hate. I recently learned of a story about high school students who donated thousands of gift cards to their arch rivals at a football game last Friday. The kids had heard that their opponents had suffered more than most in the recent floods in the Houston area, and they decided to do their part to provide them with a bit of relief. What started as a minor effort turned into a very big deal, and it’s not the only instance of service and good works that I have seen of late. In fact, I have been impressed in particular by the efforts of young people in attempting to help their fellow Houstonians during a difficult time.

I have been watching the ongoing story of rescue efforts in Mexico after the horrific earthquake that has claimed so many lives. The heroic efforts to save those buried under the rubble of fallen buildings has kept me holding my breath and praying for both the victims and those who spent days without rest in a race to find as many survivors as possible. It has been touching to see the crowds signaling for silence so that the teams would be able to hear the sounds of cries for help.

In Puerto Rico the destruction from the recent hurricane has been frightening and without power and instant aide it has fallen to ordinary citizens to begin the process of bringing the island back to life. The people have been moving downed trees, picking up rubble and rescuing people trapped by floods. Rather than complaining, they assert that they are ready to do whatever is needed to help their friends and neighbors. Their spirit is something quite wonderful to see.

I hear so many people claiming that we have been overtaken by negativity and hatred, but what I witness day after day is just the opposite. On a regular basis I see teachers working extra hours and spending huge chunks of their paychecks to help their students. In turn I witness students volunteering to care for the elderly, visit the sick or help with animals that have been abused. Complete strangers have come from as far away as Australia and Norway to assist my city after the devastation of hurricane Harvey. Sure there have been a couple of incidents of looting and thievery, but on the whole the response has been good and generous.

I enjoyed the movie Wonder Woman because its theme was one of hope and faith that mankind even with so many imperfections is ultimately a loving species. I believe that to be quite true. My experience has always been that there will be people who provide and that nobody is ever completely alone. It is in our natures to want to be generous. We listen for those cries of help and we respond.

It would be quite easy to be cynical and to close ourselves off from perceived threats, but I choose instead to embrace the world with optimism. We may have some rough times, but ultimately our goodness as humans always seems to find a way of winning the day. We definitely won’t have a chance at happiness if we immerse ourselves in negativity. We have to be willing to trust that our fellowmen and women will mostly be good people with the same kind of dreams that we have.

One set of beliefs insists that we are all born sinful and that we have to be saved. I prefer to think that each of us comes into this world as innocent as can be and that we have the opportunity to become even better as long as we keep trying. There are few people who are lost causes, and most of them are either mentally defective or have been so abused that they have only learned to hate. We need to deal with people on an individual basis rather than making assumptions that they are representative of entire groups or populations.

We have many problems that will only be solved if we learn how to talk with one another again and begin to trust that we each have good intentions but different solutions. If we are able to dialog and work together we will learn how to live with a variety of ideas and actually like them. We have to think of how to keep our nation safe without being unjust. There must be ways to have a fair and controlled immigration system without building walls. We have to consider alternative points of view and ask ourselves how we will meet the costs of programs that we find to be important. All issues are complex and we must be willing to admit that no one of us has all of the answers. Sometimes the best solutions come from the diversity of our opinions.

We might start by taking the time to look at the state of our world without so much hyperbole. The truth is that our goals are much more alike than they are different. We somehow find ways to solve the most difficult of problems when disasters strike. Perhaps we might consider what it is about our instant responses that makes us more cooperative and willing to set aside differences. Maybe it is the simple fact that we don’t overthink when we must react quickly. We just do what seems most needed and important at the moment, and don’t fret over what the consequences will be. Maybe our instincts to be helpful and unselfish are the ones that we should be following most of the time. Let’s have a bit more trust in human nature. I think we may find that we really can count on our fellowman more often than not. We people are actually rather kind. I like knowing that.


End the Pain


Most of the students whom I have taught over the years were Hispanic. They have been delightful, hard working and determined to make the most of their lives. Many of them were the first in their families to graduate from high school and then they went on to earn degrees from colleges or become certified to perform certain trades. They epitomize the kind of individuals that we hope will take the reins of leadership in the future. I have been profoundly honored over the years to teach and serve them and their families.

Now and again I encountered a gang member or someone intent on causing trouble but those kinds of kids were the rare exception and I have grown to love the gentle and giving natures that my kids have brought from countries south of our border. I never bothered to find out who was here legally and who was not, but when I was the testing coordinator it became all too apparent who was not a citizen because they did not have Social Security numbers. So many of the students in that category were incredibly talented and hard working. I worried about their immigration status constantly. I watched some of my proteges crying and greatly distressed when they received acceptances and scholarships from prestigious universities because they feared that leaving the state of Texas might reveal their status and place them in danger of being deported, so they often stayed within the boundaries of home rather than taking risking travel.

The most heart crushing aspect of their situations was that the vast majority knew little or nothing about the countries from which they had come. They were brought here by their parents when they were far too young to remember the worlds of their births. They grew up in the United States of America speaking both English and Spanish, but they were bonafide Americans through and through. Being here is what they know, and while they were children they had little idea of the danger they were in. It was only as they grew older that they began to realize the uncertainty of their situation. It might be argued that they need to be sent back because their parents’ broke the law, but I would posit that it is ludicrous to punish them for something that they did not do. We were lax and lazy and unwilling to reform our immigration laws. We allowed time to elapse to the point where it really is too late to do anything other than make them all legal.

There were bipartisan attempts to pass laws that would have permanently reformed immigration, but they were defeated and resulted in some Congressmen like John McCain and Marco Rubio who sponsored the bill being treated like pariahs. The truth is that they were the true heroes along with the other six lawmakers who had the good sense to understand that we could not continue ignoring the problem.

I worried when President Obama created DACA for the Dreamers by executive action. He had to know as I did that all it would take to eliminate the safety net was to get someone in office whose political philosophies did not mesh with his. It was apparent that the plan might one day be rescinded because it was not a law. It was wrong to mislead so many and have them believe that they were finally safe. In fact I watched an episode of the program Nightline in which it was noted that President Obama actually jumped the gun with DACA because Congress was literally on the verge of passing a law that would have protected the Dreamers. When Obama grew fearful that it might not go through he issued his executive order and essentially killed the idea of actually passing a law. So in some ways everyone has a bit of guilt with regard to this issue and that includes those of us who vote because we became complacent.

I suspect that President Obama wrongly assumed that Hillary Clinton would follow him into the presidency and give the Dreamers more time and protection. Now the issue has come to a head, and it’s time for all lawmakers and voters to face the music and devise a bipartisan plan that is fair and just and that takes a good hard look at all of the issues. This will require political compromise, not rancor. It is time to settle this once and for all and admit that these young people did not break the law and that they are simply victims of legislative laziness and lack of foresight.

We the People must challenge both Republicans and Democrats to work this out. Reforming immigration laws to help the Dreamers should not be a political football. It must take into  consideration of the needs of a group of young people who are presently terrified. All grandstanding has to be set aside, and that includes blistering commentaries from those who want to make political hay. Such harangues will not get things done the way they need to be approached. Instead all of us who understand the realities of the situation in which so many young people now find themselves must exert political pressure on all lawmakers to do whatever it takes to resolve the issues and produce a reform plan that is both realistic and sympathetic.

I have never believed in punishing young people for the sins of their fathers or grandfathers. If we were to adhere to such a way of operating few of us would be accepted by society. Instead we must consider what will happen to young men and women if they are suddenly ushered out of the country that has been their home for decades. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would feel if you were abruptly told that you were brought here illegally when you were still a child. Would you be happy about being sent to live in Slovakia or Italy or France or any foreign place from whence your parents might have come? Of course you would not. It would be a most disturbing prospect. We need to reassure the Dreamers that we have no intention of allowing such a thing to happen. It would be a travesty of the highest order.

I happened to watch a program about the division of India the other evening. Fourteen million people were displaced as a result of an order that suddenly created Pakistan and independent India. Those of Muslim descent who had lived for their entire lives in territory belonging to India felt the need to move and vice versa. Lives were totally wrecked and the death toll from the partioning was inexcusable. We have to use our common sense and not be tied to black and white arguments, but must take into account shades of grey. As both a parent and a teacher I found again and again that sometimes rules must  be changed to make any sense whatsoever. This is one of those times, and this is the moment when we must make the protections ironclad by creating a law that forever eliminates the fear that has stalked these young people for far too long.

In the name of humanity this we must do. We here in Houston have learned the value of every single life in the last couple of weeks. One of our own was a Dreamer who actually died while attempting to rescue others. He was extraordinarily heroic, but he was also not so different from the other young people who were brought illegally into this country before they were old enough to even realize what was happening. They are good solid citizens, the kind of people who will always help in an emergency. We need them here. We want them here, so please members of Congress put the animosities aside and create the law that you should have passed long ago. End the pain now!

Remembering A Wonderful Life


The classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life considers the difference that one individual might make in the world. The premise is that if the hero had never lived everything in his town would have turned out differently. It demonstrated that while each of us only touch a limited number of lives, our impact is nonetheless profound.

I was thinking about this when the new RAISE immigration plan was announced. I wondered what might have happened if such a law had been in effect when my grandfather first wanted to come to the United States from Austria Hungary. He had only minimal education and no real skills beyond a willingness to do the most detestable of jobs. His English was minimal. He came with little more than the clothes on his back and did the kind of manual labor that is brutal and dirty. He was frugal and saved money until he was able to send for my grandmother. She had even less to offer our great country than he did. She spoke no English and her education was virtually nonexistent. Once she had arrived she worked as a cook, a cleaning lady and at a bakery until she began to have children and then she rarely left her home again. My grandfather eventually settled on a job at a meat packing plant. He cleaned carcasses and equipment, hardly a grand career but certainly a noble way to provide for his family. From his meager salary he built a tiny house for which he paid cash and there he raised eight children.

According to the point system of the RAISE plan Grandpa would hardly have been a candidate for immigration. There was little to indicate that he would be of great economic use to the United States. I am rather certain that he would have been denied entry to our nation. What a loss that would ultimately have been.

All four of my grandfather’s sons served proudly in the military during World War II. During their lifetimes they worked hard at their jobs, rarely missing even one day of work. Two of them were employed by the United States Postal Service and two worked for Houston Lighting and Power. His daughters held a variety of positions that included teaching, doing research for a high blood pressure study, serving the United States Postal Service and working at a Naval Station. Their children, my grandfather’s grandchildren, were even more remarkable. Among them were accountants, teachers, managers, businesspersons, firefighters, and engineers. In fact my brother coauthored the program for the navigational system of the International Space Station. I wonder who would have done that if my grandfather had never come here?

It’s difficult to imagine how different the lives of countless individuals might have been had my grandfather never been granted permission to immigrate to the United States simply because his education was lacking, his skills were so basic and his English was wanting. On the surface he most certainly may have appeared to be a risk, and yet he was a proud American who encouraged his children to always work hard and be their very best. When many citizens were struggling to survive during the Great Depression he kept his family safe in a home that he had build one section at a time, paying for each addition as he went. He was frugal and refused to even accept even charitable gifts, insisting that he wanted to earn whatever he had. He was exactly the kind of American that has made this country great, but with a law like RAISE he might never have stepped on our shores.

With each successive generation his successors have become ever more important contributors to American society. There are medical doctors and those with PhD’s in public health and mathematics. There are teachers, accountants, nurses, electricians, business people, builders, athletes, ministers and scientists. The talent pool that has come from him has widened and the future of his great great grandchildren appears to be even brighter. His was the American dream and it was fulfilled beyond even his own expectations. Certainly it has made a difference to the country in a measurable way, but what if he had never been allowed to come?

My grandfather’s story is not that unusual. It has been repeated many times over in the history of our nation. Individuals who came with little or nothing to recommend them went on to build families whose impact was monumental. If we were to take away all of their contributions how different would our land be? How can we ever know who among us will be the teacher that we need, the inventor who will make our lives better, the leader who will find solutions to our biggest problems? Each of us traces our ancestry back to some distant place and in most cases the person who first ventured here was desperate to find a better way of life, but did not appear to be outstanding on the face of things. How can we use a point system to determine which people will ultimately have the best impact on our land?

I have taught thousands of immigrant children. Many of their parents spoke no English, but they were good people who did their share of work, often the dirtiest and least desirable. Like my grandfather they wanted a better life for their children and sacrificed greatly to make it happen, many times by working multiple jobs. Among my students from such families are college professors, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, police officers, soldiers, fire fighters, mechanics, builders, accountants, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, public health administrators, computer programmers, public administrators, school principals, counselors, lawyers and even politicians. In a single generation they have fulfilled the hopes of their parents and are actively contributing to society in thousands of ways. They are the true face of immigration, not the hopeless gang members and welfare takers that fear mongers sometimes portray them to be. 

I respectfully submit that we should carefully consider what we might be missing if we restrict immigration to our country as outlined in the RAISE bill. Skimming what appears to be the cream of the crop from various foreign nations may or may not be the answer to a better economy. Sometimes the desire that comes from someone desperate to improve his/her condition cannot be measured by a rubric, just as the worth of my grandfather might have been considered rather low. What made him a good candidate for consideration was the “ganas” burning inside his belly. All he needed was an opportunity to demonstrate just how valuable he truly was. Thankfully he was given that gift and what a difference it has made to the United States.

We certainly want the best for our nation but we need to consider the consequences of limiting ourselves to rubrics that fail to recognize the intangible values that make truly good citizens like my grandfather and his descendants. The issue is far too complex to delineate with numbers. Human beings will surprise us again and again. We need to be open to thinking outside of the box, because it is beyond the confines of our imaginations that the best things happen. Let’s keep our lives wonderful and welcome the tired and the beleaguered. From them may come just the people that we have been waiting for.