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'This Land Is Our Land' Argues For Migration


The book "This Land Is Our Land" is subtitled "An Immigrant's Manifesto." And in it, NYU journalism professor and award-winning author Suketu Mehta takes the reader on a global tour of the forces that shape our desire to migrate and tells the stories of the migrants themselves, arguing that mass migration is the defining human phenomenon of the 21st century and that we should welcome it. He joins me now from New York.


SUKETU MEHTA: Thank you, Lulu. Thanks so much for having me on your show.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You begin this book with an anecdote about your grandfather sitting on a park bench in London. Can you tell me the story?

MEHTA: Sure. So my grandfather, who was born in India - he was sitting in a park one day in North London minding his own business. And this elderly British gent comes up to him and wags a finger at my grandfather and says, why are you here? Why don't you go back to your country? And my grandfather, who came from a business family, said, because we are the creditors, because you came to my country. You took all my gold and my diamonds. You prevented our industry from growing, so we have come here to collect. We are here because you were there. So that anecdote, it seems to me, summarizes the reason for much of the global migration that we are seeing today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You cite in the book this figure, which is astonishing. In the colonial period, Europeans increased their share of GDP from 20 to 60% globally.

MEHTA: Yes. And, you know, if you look at the figures, they're quite startling. India and China - they were arguably much richer before the European powers came and took what they wanted. And it's the same thing with many of the African nations, many of the Latin American nations. And it's not as if when the colonial countries left that they left for good. They left behind their multinational corporations. They left behind a world trading order, which have been rigged against developing countries.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you see immigration as a form of reparations.

MEHTA: Absolutely. The poor countries aren't asking for sacks of gold to be fetched to them. They're asking for the borders of the rich countries to be open not just to goods but to people. And you know what? When people move, everyone benefits. The rich countries benefit. And the migrants themselves benefit. And the countries that they move from benefit because the rich countries aren't making enough babies. The migrants improve their standard of living by an average of fivefold. And the best and most targeted way of helping the poor of the world is through remittances, which account for $600 billion a year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's when immigrants send money home to their families in the countries that they come from.

MEHTA: Exactly. Worldwide, the total of remittances are about four times all the foreign aid that was sent to the poor nations, so it's the best and most targeted way of helping the poor back in the global South.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. But let's say someone accepts your premise and your facts but, frankly, just doesn't want to live in a multicultural place, believes that a country is stronger if it is unified by a common heritage.

MEHTA: Well, I would say to them, buddy, you don't have a choice. By the year 2044, this country is going to be a majority-minority nation. The history of this country has been of waves of immigrants coming in and of resistance to these waves. Ben Franklin, for example, was railing against this group of people who don't speak our language and don't follow our customs. You know who he was talking about? - Germans, like the ancestor of the current president. So there's always been resistance. And after a while, there's always been ways of integrating the newest generation of immigrants. But it's also often true that the last one in locks the door behind him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are in a particular moment, as you rightly say. Are you concerned, considering your position, that the values of this country might change in regards to the attitudes towards immigration?

MEHTA: You know, climate change is going to be the single biggest driver of migration, so you ain't seen nothing yet in terms of migration. So, yes, there's going to be more people on the move, and there's going to be more resistance. But the book ends with hope. And it's something that I saw firsthand in that dread year 2016, when my brother-in-law, Jay Chaudhuri, who is Bengali-American, entered his first-ever race for political office for state Senate in North Carolina. And he ran in a district that's 70% white. And you know what? He won in a landslide. And I saw that firsthand; the possibilities of democracy in this country. So this is what immigrants need to do. We need to fight for our rights. We need to say loudly, this land is our land too. And we need to run for political office.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Suketu Mehta is an associate professor of journalism at NYU and the author of "This Land Is Our Land."

Thank you very much.

MEHTA: Thank you so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.