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Last Friday night, I found myself unexpectedly sucked in by ABCís broadcast of Nik Wallendaís tightrope walk across Niagara Falls from America into Canada. At the end of his journey, as part of a made-for-TV stunt within a made-for-TV stunt (I guess that would make it a meta-made-for-TV stunt), Wallenda was greeted by two friendly Canadian guards, who welcomed him to the country and asked him for his passport. Wallenda joked that heíd have to go back for it, then produced the requested document wrapped in a piece of plastic. Even if he hadnít done this, my guess is Canada wouldíve let him in—not just because the stunt was coordinated by both countries, but because, when it comes to immigration, America and Canada donít care.
Earlier that same day, the big news story wasnít leaving America but coming to America and staying in America. President Obama made a major announcement that his administration was going to start easing up on deporting certain illegal immigrants. Of course we all know who this policy was aimed at. Whenever we talk about immigration in this country—and the ďillegalĒ variety of immigration in particular—we almost invariably mean Mexicans. Is it possible Canadians are living here illegally? Sure. But no one cares. After all, theyíre Canadian.
But this is strange if you know the history behind America and Canada. While itís true we have a contentious history with Mexico (we warred over Texas in the 1840s, for instance), we have an equally contentious history with our maple syrupy neighbors to the north. During revolutionary times, loyalists fled the 13 colonies for Quebec, because Quebec had decided not to revolt with us. That country was actually settled, in part, by people who thought America was a really bad idea.
And it wasnít until the American Civil War that Canadians even thought about their own independence. The reason? Because they thought the war proved our democracy was a failure… and they wanted to be prepared to defend themselves against us, because they thought we were crazy barbarians who intended to invade them.
A lot about Canada is a lot like America. We share the same celebrity talent pools, watch many of the same shows, and listen to many of the same songs. To date, a vast majority of Canadians live within a short distance from the American border—which is helpful to them in terms of climate, as well as in terms of sharing our sports leagues. But historically, Canada has been a very anti-American place to be. In fact, historically, if you wanted to make the case, Canada has been the de facto Anti-America. We get along with them now, just as we get along with England, but it wasnít always like this, and people forget that.
The question is, why do we have this relationship with Canada, where we tend to view this historical foil as a nagging but loveable little brother, while Mexico is seen as the detestable, ugly, never-liked-him, never-will kid with a gimp next door? Is it really because Mexico is as overrun with drug lords and criminals as they say it is? Or is it because Mexicans donít share our color, donít share our culture—and theyíre the ones who are coming here in droves?
If you look at the reason we went to war with Mexico over Texas—that war in the 1840s that I mentioned a moment earlier—you could find at least a hint of the answer to this question. Originally, Texas belonged to the Mexicans, but they had trouble taking care of it, so they invited Americans to come do it for them. Eventually the people living there decided they should be making their own decisions on what to do with the land, so they revolted against their Mexican leaders. Itís the same basic story of the American Revolution, and countless other revolutions and secessionist movements: History shows us people want to rule themselves.
At the end of the day, I think thatís what weíre scared of, and why we take a different approach to Mexicans and Canadians. Because letís face it: If an influx of Canadians moved here, and they didnít like the way the American government was running things, the country theyíd create would look a lot like the one we already have, except with different donuts and universal healthcare.
But the Mexican culture doesnít resemble Americaís. We donít share the same TV shows and musical artists. We donít share the same sports leagues. We donít even share the same language. So it strikes us as a very real possibility that deep down, intrinsically, we donít share the same values.
And if we donít share the same values, we wonít share the same vision of the future, and the way this country ought to be run.
And we know that if it happened in Texas—if Americans could settle part of Mexico, then take that part of Mexico from Mexico—then the same exact fate could happen to America if we let Mexicans settle down here.
So we look to restrict them. We put up fences. We drive the immigrants underground. Thatís the surest way to assure they donít integrate. We create the problem weíre trying to solve.
The best solution to any problem is always to let people be free. And if people want to live somewhere, they should live where they want to live. We can be the smiling faces who greeted Nik Wallenda and asked him for his passport, or we can be the guards with guns, shooting people for the crime of wanting to live where they feel like living, and running the foolís errand of trying to round them up. It may be true that President Obamaís new immigration policy is just an election year maneuver, but if thatís the case—if being the smiling faces instead of the guards with guns is the kind of thing that makes a president popular—then Iíd say maybe weíre not the crazy barbarians Canada thought we were.