Friday 3 July 2020

My Discovery of America

Finished June 30
My Discovery of America by Farley Mowat

This short book is the story of a few days in the spring of 1985 when Mowat attempted to fly to the United States for a planned book tour and speaking engagement at a private college. At the airport, he cleared customs and immigration and was waiting at his gate when an immigration agent came to him and asked him to return to the immigration area. After an interview, he was denied entry with no explanation.
He didn't just return home. He contacted his publishers, and went to their office in Toronto, and he worked with them to find out what was happening and why. It turned out that the McCarran Act, enacted in the McCarthy era to keep certain types of visitors to the United States out with no transparency was still on the books, and that under Reagan, its use have been revived. Despite being told various stories of past actions dating back to 1968, Mowat had visited the U.S. many times, including other book tours. Perhaps it was the topic of his most recent book, Sea of Slaughter, that drew new attention, but the government wasn't going into details.
There are a lot of echoes here of more recent U.S. immigration barriers and attitudes, including one immigration staffer who was on record as saying "We also exclude rapists, drug pushers and terrorists -- not just Canadians." When I read that I was reminded of Trumps remarks about Mexican immigrants.
Mowat received extensive media coverage, in Canada, the United States and internationally. He also received many letters from individual Americans, and it is this discovery that the title refers to. With the exception of three letters, every letter he received was apologetic, embarassed, or otherwise unhappy with their government's actions. It is this that he discovered, that Americans are not necessarily the government that represents them.
One can only hope that that is still true.

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