Why it’s time to stop using the word ‘immigrant’

In his book, “Atlas Of A Lost World,” author Craig Childs points out that “The first arrivals (to the Americas) keep getting older and older because we’re finding more evidence as time goes on. Right now we can solidly say that people were across the Americas by 15,000 years ago. But that means people were probably already well in place by then, and there’s enough evidence to suggest humans were widespread 20,000 years ago. There’s some evidence of people as far back as 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, but the evidence gets thinner and thinner the further back you go. It appears there’s not a single arrival date. No doubt there was a first-person walking in, but when that happened is well before 20,000 years ago.” 

Whether you are apt to endorse an early arrival (30,000 or more years ago) or late arrival (8,000 to 15,000 years), there is a consensus in the field of anthropology that North America and South America were, at some point in the past, totally uninhabited by humans. Technically that makes all of us immigrants.

And not only are all “native” Americans from other continents, but it also seems likely that the seeds of consciousness may have arrived from a different planet or even galaxy. One of the leading theories about the origin of life on Planet Earth is known by cosmologists and astrobiologists as “panspermia.” Essentially this theory posits that the “seeds” of life were already present in the universe (for billions of years) and arrived here through transport methods such as meteorites, comets and spacecraft. If this is an accurate description of how all microbes started out on Earth, it means that every human being is, in fact, an immigrant. We are all visitors from other worlds with the intention of residing in this one permanently. 

Finally, if the spiritualists and religionists are right about the nature of reality and the creation of the world, then it stands to reason that no one has the right to claim they are “from” anywhere at all. The only “place” they can claim to be from is the mind(s) of God or gods. In the Christian creation story, God created Adam from the dust and Eve from Adam’s rib cage. The Spirit of Divine Creation, however, is one that has a mysterious origin, although it is well understood that no human started out from a single place. Their maker is, after all, omnipresent, all-knowing and incorporeal.

Whether one refers to an anthropological, cosmological or religious position, the conclusion is the same: All human beings originated from somewhere else. The use of the word “immigrant” does not have any real meaning apart from a person’s desire to wield power over another. By calling someone else an immigrant — and ignoring one’s own status as such — the goal is to make the other person seem less accepted, normal and ultimately equal. I think the time has come to eschew the word entirely. It serves no other social purpose but to disempower, disassociate and disown people. It is based on an ignorant notion of self-preservation and cosmic worth.

In other words, the debate over immigration in America continues to swing between outright xenophobia and uncritical adulation. But what if there is no such thing as a good or bad immigrant? What if there is no such thing as an immigrant at all, at least not in the sense that most people in America use and abuse the term?

George Cassidy Payne lives in Rochester.

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