June 21, 2006 One people, many journeys To get some perspective on today’s “immigration problem,” we really need to go back 400 thousand years ago to the home of our parents, Olduvai, nestled somewhere in the borderlands of pre

One people, many journeys

To get some perspective on today’s “immigration problem,” we really need to go back 400 thousand years ago to the home of our parents, Olduvai, nestled somewhere in the borderlands of present Congo and Tanzania.

Yes, we all began in Africa and, yes, all humans are sisters and brothers. About 200,000 years ago our forebears initiated our human wanderings within and then out of Africa. Intelligent and social, as well as predatory and destructive, we survived and flourished and grew in number. This in turn sustained our outward-bound journeys in search of sustenance.

The migratory process is still going on, obviously. It took us humans about 150,000 years of journeying to inhabit most of the globe in every hemisphere. The adoption of agriculture about 10,000 years ago in various places led to cities and cultures and social inequalities and powerful kings and priests. Migrations continued all through the following centuries. The humans on these migrations generally avoided settled areas, and therefore avoided conflicts but, as kingdoms and empires were formed, those who were outside of the known societies were always regarded as aliens and barbarians.

In recent centuries, given the difficulty of transportation and the ethnic and cultural barriers confronting people, migration became a less attractive option. Also, the vast majority of humans had settled into traditional existences that sustained them sufficiently to keep them at home. What is now occurring and precipitating the so-called “immigration problem,” that massive movement of peoples searching for safety, sustenance and stability? Wars drive people to flee. But far more unsettling are the vast cultural, social and economic upheavals brought by the tsunamis we call NAFTA, the WTO, and neo-liberal globalization.



The so-called “free trade” agreements have destroyed peasant and traditional communities throughout the world, forcing huge internal movements to the cities and generated migrations out of collapsing societies. We Americans should admit that our government’s policies have kept dictators in power whose oppressions have forced people to flee. And trade agreements like NAFTA have destroyed traditional economies that once sustained millions of people. Predictably, the dispossessed journey to find a chance for a better life.



Humans, if they are to survive as a species, need to recognize that they all are brothers and sisters and that only by conscious, intelligent, equitable sharing of nature’s bounty and the fruits of human productive powers will the “immigration problem” be solved and resolved.

Gerald Cavanaugh





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