By Trudy Wischemann
I took a trip over Mother’s Day weekend, crossing eight county lines before I reached my destination. No one stopped me, asked my name or required identification, nor should they have. I am an American citizen, and my right to travel is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Had I crossed eight state lines, the result would have been the same.
It was a great trip, wonderful to see family and different scenery, but it was just as great to get back. I hate to leave home. As an American citizen, I am lucky because I also have the right not to travel. I have property rights and citizenship that allows me to stay put, to vote for my representatives in government and to participate in some of its affairs, i.e., to claim this place for myself as home.
Those two rights—to stay and to go—are not accorded to vast numbers of people around the globe. But there are people in this country who do not have those rights either: the homeless and the undocumented.
The exercise of both rights, to stay and to go, costs money. The homeless, though they may be U.S. citizens, by and large do not have enough money to stay under a roof. The lack of a permanent address prevents their exercise of many other rights, including voting. The undocumented, however, most of whom immigrated here to find work, may have the money to keep sheltered and otherwise legal, but the threat of deportation (especially now) puts extreme limits on their ability to stay as well as to go.
These thoughts brought to mind some lyrics from a Ry Cooder song from the Dust Bowl, a time when huge numbers of American citizens were displaced, stripped from their homes, and forced to travel to find work or else starve. Despite being citizens, many were prevented from crossing state lines, or were so harassed by locals in the communities where they camped there was no option but to move on. The lyrics go: “How can you keep on moving unless you migrate too? They tell you to keep on moving, but migrate you must not do. The reason that I’m moving, the reason that I roam, is to get to a new location and find myself a home.”
Then my mind flashed to another set of words from a book by John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (1984). In it he provides a broader perspective on migration:
“The transformation from a nomadic life to a settled one is said to mark the beginning of what was later called civilization. Soon all those who survived outside the city began to be considered uncivilized. Perhaps during the last century and a half an equally important transformation has taken place. Never before our time have so many people been uprooted. Emigration, forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis, is the quintessential experience of our time.”
London born, living in a French village, Berger’s European timeline is longer than our American one, but both Old and New Worlds have experienced and are made of these two transformations: movers and stickers, settled and migrant. Perhaps if we looked at the reasons for both, we lucky settled ones would find better ways to accommodate the travelers, especially those looking for a new home.
Trudy Wischemann is a semi-nomadic writer who is grateful for the roof over her head. You can send her your travel thoughts and stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.