Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Aliens Among Us

Aliens. Apart from reminding everyone of the movies starring Sigourney Weaver, “Alien” is a word you can find everyday in an all too real context.

What is an alien? Had I never been to the US, I’d tell you an alien is an extra-terrestrial entity, sentient or not. And more often than not it’s a hideous monster out to devour/destroy/enslave/you-name-it humankind. All in all, what best defines an alien is a living being that’s not human (emphasis on “not”). That’s what I always thought, and it was logical enough.

But when you cross the ocean to get to the US, you discover that the alien is you. You, the foreigner, the stranger. You’re an alien in the term of vocabulary chosen by the US customs to designate someone who isn’t a US national. Shocking though that is in itself, in what it indicates as to how the US customs administration views the outside world, there is worse.

Many ordinary people in the US refer to foreigners as aliens.

And I wonder why. There are other words for people who do not share your nationality. Words which do not also carry the meaning of “beings so different, they’re anything but human”. Foreigner is one. Stranger is another, but I tend to go for foreigner, which does carry the intended meaning of “not being one of the country’s nationals”. Of course, I’m sure some people would argue with me that when the term started being used, science-fiction didn’t even exist, except in the minds of Jules Vernes, and wasn’t a mass market production. That may well be, but the times have changed. And it’s been a very long while since they changed.

When you hear “alien”, you do not think “stranger” or “foreigner”, you think “non human being”. And the “out to destroy humanity” usually isn’t far behind.

Calling people “aliens” is not only shocking, it’s insulting. It’s denying the fact that we’re the same, we’re people, even if some papers say that we do not belong to the same “nationality”. Terms like that serve to keep barriers, gaps and distance between people. Tell me, what do you feel when you hear “alien”? What do you feel when you hear “foreigner”?

On a subconscious level, we do not feel the same thing when we hear those words. One is definitely threatening. Remote, and irremediably different. Alien, in short.

Do people consider these things? Do people realize how important the choice of words can be? Do they understand all the subtext, all the feelings and emotions simple words inevitably trigger deep inside us, no matter whether we admit to this or not?

“Aliens” is one of the things I wish the US and its customs administration would change. It shows how remote and different from the rest of the world the American culture considers its own. Oh, it may be completely unconscious—although I kind of doubt that—but it’s there. It betrays this urge to close in upon oneself, to close to the world outside, and to focus only on oneself. It’s a very human thing to feel. A very human urge to have. But it’s one that must be overcome, especially when one intends to be the leader of “good causes” around the world.

Of course, there are many other things the US needs to change if it wants to embody the “forces of good”, but still “aliens” should change. It’s a small thing, so easy.

When you call me an “alien”, you push me away, you insult me, you deny me. When you call me a “foreigner”, you simply state the fact that I’m not a national of your country. “Alien” is a debasing term, one that denies your existence as a fellow human being. As long as the US administration refers to foreigners as “aliens”, it will strand itself apart from the world. As long as ordinary people within the US use the term and consider it normal, they will back up the growing feeling in the world that the US willingly and deliberately estranges itself from the rest of us, sets itself apart and above the rest of us.

If anyone with a bit of understanding as to how important words can be, as to how deep their meanings run inside our minds and hearts reads this naïve bit of rambling, consider getting over “aliens”.

We’re not “aliens”. We’re people, just like you.

Foreigners, certainly.

But not aliens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I am an American living in Europe and I have always despised how my government contemptuously refers to foreigners as "aliens". I can't imagine that it is for any other reason than to dehumanize them to make them easier to "process" in any way that the government sees fit.