C’mon, C’mon, C’mon!

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled

masses yearning to breathe free”

– inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

by Trevor C. Hale

SRI LANKA – I can’t take my eyes off the baby elephant. He’s the size of a big Labrador, has the sweet eyes of a little old man, and his tiny trunk is squirming around with the reckless abandon of a happy toddler.

The force of his miniature cuteness is like a tractor beam. If he could talk it would surely be in the nasal voice of Babe the Pig. “Well, hello there!”

His mother’s massive trunk whips toward my face in a flash. She hangs it there in a way that says, “Imma smack you if you get out of line.” Her wise eyes seem to say, “You’re not from around here, but if you got food and play by our rules, we’ll let you stay.”

For better or worse, the fifty-odd wild pachyderms here at the elephant orphanage outside the capital of Columbo are sensitized to two-legged visitors and tolerant of outsiders.

A lone male limps down the street. Part of his front leg was blown off by a land mine. Every step is a struggle, but somehow he keeps on truckin’.

I’m on a holiday in Sri Lanka, the tiny tear-shaped island off the southeast coast of India. The wounds of its 20–year civil war are still very fresh.

The orphanage helps elephants, but it’s mainly a show for tourists. I’m an outsider to the Sri Lankans, not to mention the elephants, but they are making me feel welcome. Just like any gracious Alabamian would, right?

Right!? While trying to find the Bama score I see that Alabama’s anti-immigration bill has just taken effect.

The civil war in Sri Lanka was fought between the Sinhalese and Tamils. The Tamil Tigers fought for an independent state in the northeast part of the island. They were known as one of the most brutal rebel insurgent forces on the planet.  They were wiped out by the Sinhalese government in a fierce military campaign in 2009, and the country is still coming to terms with the aftermath.

Nearly 100,000 people died in a war largely about race, religion and sovereignty. So many of the world’s conflicts are fought over ethno-religious identity—who you are and what you stand for.

As a Caucasian Alabamian in Asia, I stick out like a hoop skirt and will always be a guailo/gringo. Some places are more welcoming than others.  But because I was lucky enough to be born in the U.S., I can legally live in most foreign countries.

The path that led me to my current home in Shanghai started at an international company that located in Alabama because of the state’s progressive and welcoming business environment. Many of my former foreign colleagues are now proud locals.

The U.S. is far from perfect, but the world is in awe and envy of our openness and ability, albeit sometimes clumsily, to integrate. We are a land created and defined by our immigrant heritage. More so than any other nation on the planet. It’s one of our greatest strengths. It’s part of our DNA.

Most internationals I meet don’t know much about Alabama. Forrest Gump. Bear Bryant. America’s Civil Rights Movement.

And now, we’re known for having the most strident anti-immigration law in America’s 235–year history. Teachers—our most underpaid, overworked, unsung public servants—are now enforcing immigration law? We’re discouraging good Samaritans?  (What would Jesus (“hay sus”) do?) Alabama has become a place where you can be asked for your “papers” based on how you look?  Yikes!

Joey Kennedy a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for The Birmingham News, recently wrote about economic studies that indicate “immigrants are not a drag on the economy; they don’t take jobs from the native-born population; they don’t depress overall wage rates.”

For the sake of our reputation and our pride, not to mention economic development, farming, tourism, our humanity and identity, let’s find the right balance on immigration before we become an international punch line. Our herd will be better for it.

Trevor C. Hale, a Cullman native, lives and works in

Shanghai, and does not carry papers on his person.

Leave a Reply