Saturday, June 29, 2013

Through these eyes...

 As In My Dreams
 The Puy du Fou - France
It has been said that at the moment of death, one's life unfolds before one's eyes.  That I cannot know, but what I can know and what I have seen at the Puy du Fou Cinéscénie in France is the unfolding of a life before my very eyes in the most unbelievable way!
It was a pageant that depicted the life of the people of France, the story itself and what I remember was so overwhelming as to defy description.  Mere mundane words, words such as "spectacle" and "extravaganza" pale and fade away and one feels the need to "coin a new phrase" so as to do justice to such an event.
Philippe de Villiers, creator of this, magnificent undertaking, did just that.  Because it was neither a "son et lumierè," a diorama, nor certainly not a theatre performance, he grandly proclaimed it to be La Cinéscénie.  It comes from the Greek words "kine" meaning movement and "scene" expressing space, therefore he called it "moving space."
But what, may you ask, did I see?  I saw a great living film, unfolding in three dimensions before my eyes.  It was a show unique in all the world, and advertised as one of Europe's greatest entertainments venues.  This is the 25th anniversary of the theme park and 35th anniversary of the La Cinéscénie show with  1.5 million visitors every year, well over 35 million to date, making it one of the most popular cultural tourism sites in all of historic France.
Do come along with me as I attempt to paint a word picture of this great Cinéscénie, the beauty of the people and events of the land, the magical land of Puy du Fou.
It has been said that if we could see light years out into space we could see the complete panorama of life, beginning with the Garden of Eden, all laid out as in a photo-drama.  Each successive generation would propel the previous one further and further on out, and so on and on.
That hypothesis describes the concept of this play; we see generations live out their lives, then pass before our eyes even as our eyes were drawn back to the succeeding chapters as they, too, unfolded before us.  And what "chapters" they were...
When the actual Puy du Fou site was discovered in 1977, it all came together for Philippe de Villiers.  Seeing the ruins of the great castle with the huge lake below gave him inspiration for the framework and setting for this human panorama.
As for the setting and story itself, prepare yourself.  The setting, Puy du Fou, stands among the granite hills and farmlands of the upper Vendeén Bocage, between the Mont des Alouettes and Saint Laurent-sur Sèvre, the burial place of Père de Monfort, who evangelized the area at the beginning of the 18th century.  The place took its name from a rocky hillock called Puy du Fou.  The word Puy came from the Latin podium topped by fouteaux, the common botany name for beeches.
On the borders of Poitou, An Jou and the marches of Brittany, close to Nantes, Angers, Poitiers and New Rochelle, the strategic position of Puy du Fou once led to the erection of a medieval keep which was razed to the ground by the English during the Hundred Years' War.  It was recently rediscovered by the archaeological club of Puy du Fou.
The pink brick renaissance chatêau was built under King Francois I at the invitation of Catherine du Puy du Fou, using plans drawn up by Le Primatice, the Italian architect of the 16th century.  However, in 1794 it was set on fire by General Turreau's "infernal columns" which wrought havoc on the Vendée.
This chatêau which serves as a backdrop to the Cinéscénie is on the territory of the Commune of Les Epesses in the canton of Les Herbiers.
Philippe de Villiers was 27 years old when he came up with the idea of creating a great folk pageant which would combine oral tradition with very modern technology.  It tells the story of the upper Vendéen Bocage and covers the 700 years from the Middle Ages to the Liberation.
The story is shown beautifully through scenes of everyday life.  A life with its simple joys, its work carried out through all four seasons, with its sorrows and tragedies, all seen through the eyes of a simple farm family, the Maupilliers.
The narrator is the distaff merchant, a traveling salesman who takes anecdotes and small knick knacks from town to village.  To hear his commentary and to observe the fantastic scenes of life as it was then is almost beyond description.
Try to visualize the stage, the setting for this grandiose affair.  I will relate it to you as it was told to me, by our most gracious host, Etienne Morille.  Our small party consisting of Melania and Pierre Simon, who are residents of the area, and Doris Clark and myself, were greeted warmly by Mr. Morille who proceeded to tell us wondrous things.
Now, about the "stage," imagine, if you can, the magnificence of a stage which encompasses 15 hectares (that is 37.5 acres) with a peripheral circuit of 1500 metres (4,500 feet) around the lake and a width of 350 metres (1050 feet)!  Unbelievable!  But what came on stage was even more splendid.
Mr. Morille patiently explained to us that on any given night of the 28 performances held only on weekends from May to September 2600 players will take to the lights and water for this epic.
If you think I was overly impressed, just listen to these figures.  Every performance has a cast of 4500 different characters, which of course calls for 4500 costumes.  To insure that the show goes smoothly there are 300 people providing services at each performance plus 20 frogmen, 65 first-aiders and 700 people for the stage management alone.
And now for the part that enhanced the overall picture, the animals.  Horses, not just any horses, but many were royal, white, stunning Lipizzaner, prancing and dancing.  And there were dancing bears, great falcons, vultures, owls, eagles, wild boar, greyhounds, flocks of sheep, pairs of trudging oxen, cows, rams, goats, gaggles of geese, pigs, and even Poitou asses.
But what, you may ask, did they do?  Were the circus animals performing on cue?  Did people watch their antics and politely applaud?  No, they were part of this awesome kaleidoscope of humanity, this trudging, marching, flailing, dancing mass that lived and died, the people of France, through the ages.
We saw the villagers laboring in the fields with their plodding oxen, then joyously singing at their parish festivals alongside the dancing bears.  We saw the jousting of chivalry in all its bravado.  When King Francis I visited the Lord and Lady of Puy du Fou, we saw the happy celebrations of the people of the land, the wine drinkers and food eaters, the local color, and the characters.
We saw the horrors of the Vendeén wars with the many casualties, wailing and bloodshed, the despair as shown through the weary figures as they moved through time and space.
The beautiful "Pardon of Bon-Champs" thrilled us when the "white" general, mortally wounded at the battle of Cholet in 1793, orders the desperate Vendeéns to honor the 5000 "blue" prisoners as they had been threatening to kill.  Against all their instincts, they did honor the prisoners and the general.
We cheered at the rebirth of the martyred land in the 19th century and we watched in dreadful silence as the refugees from the Ardennes made their silent trek home to the Vendeé after the defeat of 1940.
The thrilling and emblematic figures of Saint Louis Grignion de Monfort, the evangelizer, Georges Clemenceau and Marshal Jean De Lattre de Tassigny, two heroes of the world wars of the 20th century, were represented amid spectacular fireworks at the conclusion.
You must understand and visualize the entire production consisted of the haunting narrative of the merchant.  Each chapter, each age passes before your eyes in all its joy and pathos, then moves on slowly until the figures are too small to distinguish.  As one age exist another age is springing to life before your very eyes.
It's a great arch of life, a dance of the human spirit and beautiful beyond words.  The constantly moving carousel of life and death and all the human drama that comes between, that is the history of France.
Having been roused from our trance like reverie at the end of the pageant, we were thrilled to accept Mr. Morille's invitation to enter the magical backstage, and what a place it was.  It was truly the land of Puy du Fou!
It is hard to grasp the magnitude of this venture and what is even more astounding is that the actors, ranging in age from 3 to 90, are all volunteers.  All of them live in the area in 15 communes or villages.
They are the Puyfolais, three generations of them, and this intermingling of ages and occupations has been the secret of their great success.  These Puyfolais are young children, teenagers, mothers, white-collar workers, farmers, craftsmen and shopkeepers in their regular lives during the week and perform only on weekends.
Philippe de Villiers, the original volunteer, calls this commitment of giving one's free time, energies, ideas and skills to bring thrills and happiness to the public for 2 hours per performance "personal sponsorship".
However, this volunteer work cannot be considered amateurism as the dedicated Puyfolias have managed to combine the enthusiasm of amateurs with the expectations of professionals, not an easy task.
Nothing is left to chance as the young people are taught through the junior academy of Puy du Fou about the traditional skills, heritage and responsibilities expected of them by their region.
Pageant techniques, costumes, traditional dances, theatre, regional history, woodcarving, juggling and illumination are among the skills taught.  Children in particular are interested in their history, the fauna and flora and their cultural heritage.

Because horses and horsemanship are a major part of the spectacle an equestrian academy was also established to train the 130 riders and coachmen.  After witnessing the dazzling displays by the horses and riders it is clear nothing is left to chance.
Imagine intermingling with all these people and animals "backstage" which is really several villages on the perimeter of the "Great Stage", a world unto its own and one I will never forget.
Much to our delight Mr. Morille then whisked us up to the inner sanctuary itself, the projection room.  High above the 14000 seats in the panoramic stands, which are all equipped with headphones to translate the program into numerous languages, we found 2000 projectors with 450 kilometres of electric cables.
The lighting was fantastic, outdone only by the bedazzlement of the fireworks exploding in the program finale.  Ten thousand fireworks per season add great excitement to the performances.  Add to the impressive program 1500 computer-controlled fountains that combine fire and water in ways beyond the imagination.
Cinéscénie combines quadriphony, laser, electronics, computerized pyrotechnics and huge water screens to create a magical atmosphere defying expectations.
The powerful music, as everything else, is also performed voluntarily.  The famous composer Georges Delerve created the soundtrack and popular music of Vendée was recorded with harpist Lily Laskine.
An ensemble of 73 musicians from the French National Orchestra and 92 chorus singers from the Paris Opera House perform music you will never forget.
Imagine a mixture of perfect script, timeless music, spectacular colors and the mystical presence of the actors who paradoxically appear to be both near and yet so far away in time and space.
Oh yes, the actors, or should I say glorious, resonating, mesmeric voices of actors who volunteer their well-known talents and trademark voices to the project.  The star packed list includes Francios Chaumette, Marie Dubois, Michael; Duchaussoy, Susanne Fion, Robert Hossein, Dominque Leverd, Denis Manuel, Jean Piat, Catherine Salviat, Nicolas Silberg, Pierre Zimmer and Philippe Noiret.
Now, if I close my eyes, I see it once again.  The strong figures moving behind the sturdy oxen planting their seeds.  When adversity and wars strike they tire and bend toward the ground and the oxen slow their pace, trudging along.
I hear the hypnotic voice filling my senses and I feel I am a part of history, while being in the present between life and death.  There is no distinction.
And this I will remember always as in my dreams...

The Crafty Traveller


The Daily Mail, UK
Forget Mickey - these are the French theme parks to wow a family
By Fred Mawer
PUBLISHED: 11:55 EST, 26 May 2013 | UPDATED: 11:55 EST, 26 May 2013
Let me reveal a little secret to you. Disneyland Paris is not the only theme park in France. In fact, in my opinion, it may not even be the most enjoyable.
Last summer, I took my family to two other parks far less well known to Brits. We went to Puy du Fou, south-east of Nantes in the Vendée, which brings to life periods of history in shows of epic proportions, and to high-tech Futuroscope, near Poitiers. We had a brilliant time at both.
What they offer is at turns surprising, thrilling and culturally stimulating. Here's why you should go too, and my tips on visiting.

 Puy du Fou
Why go? For the shows - in scale and sophistication superior to anything I've seen at any other theme park. During the daytime in the Grand Parc, gladiators battle and charioteers race in a Roman stadium; Vikings rise miraculously out of a lake on a longship, then ransack a village; English and French armies fight over a medieval castle; and birds of prey swoop to within inches of your head.
Impressive though these shows are, they are nothing compared to the Cinéscénie night-time extravaganza. Some 1,200 actors (local volunteers of all ages) and a vast cast of animals (geese, sheep, pigs, oxen) movingly recount the history of the region, from the Middle Ages to the Second World War, in gigantic, living tableaux. Images projected on to watery screens and large-scale pyrotechnics complete the entertainment. Remember the opening show for the Olympics?


Friday, June 28, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness


The Power of Kindness
How to stimulate the brain and change the world.
What exactly is a random act of kindness?  While Wikipedia takes a stab at defining it whatever is on Wikipedia is subject to continuous change.  As a result there are numerous references on the Internet to Wikipedia definitions for the phrase, "Random acts of kindness" but all of them are different.  Here is the latest incarnation of their definition.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a person or people wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual person or people.  Either spontaneous or planned, random acts of kindness are encouraged by various communities.
Any further search for a definitive definition for this phrase has been met with frustration, deception and despair, all reactions contrary to the whole concept of random acts of kindness.
Perhaps the problem with today is our pre-occupation with precisely defining what we are doing before we can do it.  When there is confusion in terms of the definition, there can only be chaos in the execution or lack of execution.
In other words, maybe we just think to much.
Why in the world do we need definitions in order to do good?  I mean do we really adhere to a world view that if it is not in Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary then it cannot be right, or good or even worthwhile?
I use both resources on occasion but as a journalist I also realize that any effort to use democracy to create truth is doomed, and both resources do it.
What does that mean?  Both services allow their definitions and other content to be submitted by the public, edited by the public, changed by the public and even interpreted by the public.
That sounds like a form of democracy, power to the people, regardless of whether the people know the subject or understand the power.  It is like the French Revolution, a brutal and bloody overthrow of a monarchy in 1789 with no idea what to do if it succeeded.  It took them three times to get it right.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as follows:
French Revolution, also called Revolution of 1789,  the revolutionary movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first climax there in 1789. Hence the conventional term “Revolution of 1789,” denoting the end of the ancen régime in France and serving also to distinguish that event from the later French revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
So what exactly is a "Random act of kindness" and why should we care what it means?
Well, I say a "Random act of kindness" is a selfless and often spontaneous act performed to help others or to cheer them up.  It is usually performed anonymously with no expectation for acknowledgement or recognition.
If we worried less about motive and reward and more about giving we would need no definition and no reason to act.  It would be an everyday occurrence because it was just the right thing to do whenever you can do it.
But from a scientific perspective there may be compelling reasons why you really should be doing it every opportunity you may get.
Helping others feel good and happy might just be your ticket to happiness and to a whole lot of other people, and that sounds like a good thing.
Science has proven that the brain generates chemicals naturally,  One of these is a hormone called serotonin found in the pineal gland, digestive tract and the brain.  It serves to transmit nerve signals to nerve cells.
Changes in the hormone level can alter your mood by making you sad when the level goes down and making you happy when the level goes up.  When you stay happy this endorphin protects you from depression while helping to strengthen your immune system.
Studies have proven when a person does a random act of kindness it not only increases the happy feeling, through production of more serotonin, for the recipient of this act of kindness, but also for the giver and anyone watching the act or reactions.
Imagine that, we spend billions of dollars on prescription drugs because we don't feel good only to feel worse and destroy our immune system in the process, when we could be feeling well by doing random acts of kindness.
Unfortunately, here in America it may be difficult to find people able to react naturally to a random act of kindness.  You see, if they are already under the influence of prescription drugs their brain is no longer able to react naturally to such acts of kindness.
Think about this, based on our national addiction to legal, prescription drugs, one could conclude Americans are about the most depressed people on the planet.  We have the highest standard of living, most expensive health care and education, more wealth and better homes and diets than most people.
Yet we have had a 400% increase in anti-depressant pill use the last two decades because of our depression.  That figure comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not me.
Helplessness, hopelessness, and immobilization are now the fashionable keys to being good Americans and great fodder for social gatherings.
Sooo.  Maybe our first random act of kindness should be to help people get off the drugs that are keeping them from being depressed in the first place.  There are a host of prescriptions to take care of our plethora of mind illnesses.
Here are some of the manifestations of depression and mood swinging.
Which Drugs Are Abused?
The most commonly used prescription drugs fall into three classes:
1. Opioids
Examples: oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and meperidine (Demerol)
Medical uses: Opioids are used to treat pain or relieve coughs or diarrhea.
How they work: Opioids attach to opioid receptors in the central nervous system (the  brain and the spinal cord), preventing the brain from receiving pain messages.

2. Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants
Examples: pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax)
Medical uses: CNS depressants are used to treat anxiety, tension, panic attacks, and sleep disorders.
How they work: CNS depressants slow down brain activity by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA. The result is a drowsy or calming effect.

3. Stimulants
Examples: methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
Medical uses: Stimulants can be used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD.
How they work: Stimulants increase brain activity, resulting in greater alertness, attention, and energy.

Here are some of the results of our obsession with depression.

Therapeutic Drug Use
(Data are for the U.S.)
Percent of persons using at least one prescription drug in the past month: 48.5% (2007-2010)
Percent of persons using three or more prescription drugs in the past month: 21.7% (2007-2010)
Percent of persons using five or more prescription drugs in the past month: 10.6% (2007-2010)
Source: Health, United States, 2012, table 91 Adobe PDF file [PDF - 9.8 MB]

Physician office visits
Number of drugs ordered or provided: 2.6 billion
Percent of visits involving drug therapy: 75.1%

Most frequently prescribed therapeutic classes:
Antihyperlipidemic agents
Source: National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2010 Summary Tables, tables 22, 23, 24 Adobe PDF file [PDF - 382 KB]

What other people are saying.

Imagine this!  Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved!

Did you know that a single act of kindness can; bring a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, reduce stress, increase the sense of self worth, happiness, and optimism, lower blood pressure, diminish pain, an increased sense of self-worth, greater happiness and optimism, translate to immense immune and healing benefits, increase a sense of self-worth, greater happiness and optimism, enhance our feeling of joyfulness, helps reverse feelings of depression and lower the heart rate.

Kindness Breeds More Kindness: In findings sure to gladden the heart of anyone who's ever wondered whether tiny acts of kindness have larger consequences, researchers have shown that generosity is contagious.

Goodness spurs goodness, they found: A single act can influence dozens more.

The positive effect of kindness on the immune system and on the increased production of serotonin in the brain has been proven in research studies. Serotonin is a naturally occurring substance in the body that makes us feel more comfortable, peaceful, and even blissful.

In fact, the role of most anti-depressants is to stimulate the production of serotonin chemically, helping to ease depression. Research has shown that a simple act of kindness directed toward another improves the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness and the person extending the kindness.

Even more amazing is that persons observing the act of kindness have similar beneficial results. Imagine this! Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved!

                                                                        Wayne Dyer

Kindness isn't just a fluffy, feel-good, warm-fuzzy concept. It is a powerful, energetic experience that transforms both the giver and recipient at such deep levels that some say it can work miracles. When we open our hearts and reach out to others in kindness, our brain releases endorphins—the morphine-like chemicals that produce the feelings of exhilaration know as the "runner's high." Acts of kindness, according to researcher Paul Persall, also cause your brain to release "Substance P," a neurotransmitter chemical that blocks pain. These two powerful physiological processes have an immense influence on our body/mind/spirit and the way that we experience life.

A steady flow of endorphins and Substance P through our bodies strengthens our immune system, keeps us feeling happy, joyful, optimistic and energized. This heightens our sense of well being so that we feel calmer, more centered and focused no matter what kind of stressful events might be happening around us. Physiologically, these brain chemicals improve circulation, reduce blood pressure, increase body warmth and improve weight control. Kindness helps us relax so that we can connect with others and with our own good feelings.
                                                                         Janae Weinhold, Ph.D.

Now heal thyself and then help heal the world.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Immigration Reform - Aren't We All the Immigrants?


With Immigration reform promised in his first year by President Barack Obama back in 2009, and this being his fifth year in office, there is a chance Immigration reform actually might make it through Congress.  However, as far as our nation's capitol, nothing can be guaranteed except extended procrastination.
Long ago we should have had meaningful Immigration reform, the first since major bills were passed in 1965 and 1986, if we had not forgotten that when it comes down to the real facts, we really are a nation of immigrants.

There are a lot of things the president and congress can do to change or manipulate reality or to rewrite history but the plain truth is clear.  In 2010 there were 2.9 million pure blooded Native American and Native Alaskan Indians in America and 2.3 million Natives with mixed blood, a total of 5.2 million.
Since the total US population in 2010 was 308,745,538 that means just 1.8% of the population are original Americans, or 98.2% of Americans are immigrants or ancestors of immigrants.
Unlike the many countries settled since the discovery of America in 1492 the United States has the most diverse ancestry in the world.  The largest ancestral country of origin for Americans is Germany yet it only represents 15.5% of our total population.  No major country in the world can claim similar diversity of ancestry, not even newer nations like the US such as South American nations, Canada or Australia.
Since the 1800's there have been more Germans ancestors than any other immigrants to America with 48 million in 2010.  Also since the 1800's Irish have been firmly in second place with 34.7 million in 2010.
The dominant Hispanic country of ancestry is Mexico - 31.8 million followed by the English - 25.9 million, Italian -  17.2 million, Polish - 9.6 million, French - -8.7 million, Scottish - 5.4 million, Dutch - 4.6 million, Norwegian - 4.4 million and Scottish/Irish - 4.4 million show the dominance of European nations to American ancestry.  High profile immigrants from Russia, China, Cuba, India, Korea and Japan all range between 1-3 million.
In total about 500 ancestries have been reported to the US Census Bureau on behalf of the American population.
So I guess the bottom line in our message to all the nations of the world is, "We are you!"  Truly we are the only true melting pot of culture, religion, society and wealth in the world.  It makes us unique, but also makes us responsible to set the definitive example of how all of the people on Earth should be able to live in peace, harmony, prosperity and individual freedom.
Such inherent American virtues and characteristics should be embedded in our laws and actions but the dysfunctional federal government including the president and congress have made a mockery of adherence to American values.  They are yet to achieve the most basic of all actions, approving a budget, and have failed to approve one every year Obama has been president.
Well they better approve meaningful Immigration reform or the ancestors of immigrants may very well deport those same federal elected officials.
As for a lingering immigration issue that may still derail the reform movement, the issue of securing our borders, several years ago I proposed a very simple and logical way to achieve security.
We have about 2.5 million defense soldiers and civilian employees but only 1.1 million are in the USA. Since about 100,000 are in both Iraq and Afghanistan that leaves 1.2 million DOD employees all over the rest of the world.
There are over 735 American military bases outside the USA including 38 large and medium size facilities. At the height of the British Empire in 1898 they had 36 bases spread out around the world and at the height of the Roman Empire in 117 AD they had 37 major bases. Of course they were both trying to conquer the world. We aren't supposed to be conquering the world so we should get rid of the excess bases.
We could save billions of dollars a year if we moved a number of the very expensive foreign bases back to America and strategically located them along our southern border.  The presence of tens of thousands of US military troops and their bases would be a far greater deterrent to illegal immigrants or drugs than a few thousand more border patrol agents and a higher fence.
Immigration is not a political issue and should not be caught in the debate between two partisan parties.  If truth be known two partisan political parties have no business controlling the agenda for America and after their performance the last few years isn't it time we wake up?
Our Constitution does not guarantee control of any kind to the Democrats or Republicans so we need to campaign for freedom from the archaic and worn out platforms and control of the two political parties and return to what worked the first couple of hundred years, multiple political parties to choose from in elections.

The following is a summary of the history of Immigration reform in America from University of North Carolina - Greensboro.  You should read it and you will better understand the story behind the Immigration debate.
University of North Carolina Greensboro

by Dr. Raleigh Bailey, CNNC Director and Research Fellow

The U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written by refugees and immigrants and their children who sought religious and economic freedom. These documents represented ideals that became cherished around the world. For the first 100 years of U.S. history, there were no immigration laws.

The first immigration law passed by Congress was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. At that time Chinese workers were being recruited in large numbers to do hard labor on the West Coast, building railroads and other large construction projects. However, California land developers did not want the workers to have the right to stay, buy land, and become citizens.

At the same time, our northern and southern borders were essentially porous. Much of what is now Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California were part of Mexico until the U.S. claimed the lands through wars or treaties. As the Southwest became U.S. territory, the Hispanic populations there came under U.S. rule. In many cases, families were suddenly divided by citizenship and residency requirements, though mutual visitation was ongoing.
With the depression of the 1930s, many family farms were lost. Land was bought up by agribusinesses. Farm labor needs were met by the newly homeless families who had lost their lands. With World War II, when young men were called to the military, agribusiness began to rely on migrant farmworkers from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many workers were brought as contract labor and others came on their own for growing seasons, returning to join their families after the crops were harvested.
Approximately 5 million Mexicans participated in the Bracero program, a labor agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, between 1942 and 1964. The exploitation of these workers is well-documented. After the war and the growing shift toward manufacturing and urbanization, agriculture continued to rely on migrant farmworkers, both those who were documented and recruited by labor contractors and those who simply crossed the border to continue their seasonal work jobs. That system has continued to the present day.
The 1960s brought major changes to the U.S. immigration system. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, a newly conscientious U.S. Congress passed a new law, the Immigration Reform Act of 1965, which struck down our Eurocentric bias. Persons from countries around the globe could apply to migrate to the US if they met conditions related to family reunification, U.S. employment needs, or refugee status. The flood of refugees to the U.S. after the Vietnam War led to the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980, which formalized the refugee resettlement process and established a new flow of people seeking freedom and security.
Several years later Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. This legislation was the first time a bill made it unlawful for an employer to hire an undocumented worker, and it created a pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers who had a history of work in the U.S. and who had no legal problems other than being unauthorized. It was a significant piece of legislation designed to rectify the fact that the U.S. recruited and depended upon vast numbers of Latin American farmworkers who did not have travel documents in order to sustain our agricultural economy. Many of these people then moved out of the fields and into construction jobs created by our growing economy. New farmworkers, many of them without documents, then came to fill the farm jobs.
In 1994 the U.S. and Mexico passed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. U.S. agribusinesses were able to sell government-subsidized corn in Mexico at below market prices, destroying the traditional farm economy there. This was further complicated by the Mexican government’s decision to suspend the “ejido” system. Ejidos, written into the Mexican constitution, are communal farm lands shared by families and villagers and passed from generation to generation. The suspension allowed ejido lands to be sold to multinational agribusiness corporations. As a result, more unemployed young men who were strong and brave enough made the dangerous trek to “El Norte.”
 In 1996 the U.S. Congress passed two major bills that severely penalized undocumented residents and restricted legal immigrants from using many public services, even if those immigrants worked and paid taxes in the U.S. The Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRRRA) was especially repressive as it required people who had an “unlawful presence” to return to their countries of origin for periods of three to ten years before they could apply to return. This was true even for spouses of American citizens.
Another bill, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) restricted tax-paying legal immigrants from using most public services and imposed major hardships on low-income workers, creating major legal and social snafus. Initially, pregnant immigrant women were denied access to WIC (the food supplement program for low-income pregnant women). Many premature births of high-risk, malnourished babies occurred, dramatically increasing medical costs for families and health providers. The federal government then concluded that immigrant women (documented and undocumented) could get WIC since it was nurturing their U.S.-citizen unborn babies.
In the 2000 census, North Carolina had the fastest-growing Latino population in the U.S. Most of these newcomers were immigrants, many of them undocumented and connected with the farm labor economy of the state. In the 2010 census, the state’s Latino population continued to grow but mostly due to the U.S.-born children of the newcomers from the previous decade. North Carolina has an estimated 150,000 migrant farmworkers annually, mostly from Mexico and other Central American countries. Our state has one of the largest farmworker populations in the U.S. With the tightened border security, many farmworkers now stay all year, unable to return home to see their families for fear they could not make the trek back across the desert. Some start new families here. Many families back home continue to depend on the paychecks of their husbands, sons, and fathers.

Other newcomers come on time-limited visas from around the world as students, business people, or tourists, and then they overstay their visas. Most unauthorized newcomers fall into this category. Others may be green card holders, but if U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not have documentation of their place of residence, their legal permanent residence status is terminated. Populations who come to the U.S. and to North Carolina as refugees regularly petition to bring their family members from their countries of origin. As recently-arrived newcomers, these refugees are typically low-income wage earners. If their families are granted permission to join them, they often come as immigrants but not as refugees, which means that they have no access to most public services. These expanded families struggle to survive because even though they are working they are barred from supplemental assistance available to others.
Economic impact is one of the major issues related to the proposed immigration reform. Most economists are clear that immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented residents, would have a strong positive impact on economic growth. Newcomers are drawn to the U.S. for job opportunities, are mostly young and entrepreneurial in spirit, and will be workers, consumers, and taxpayers. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress, agrees with this analysis.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, provides an alternative analysis. The Heritage Foundation posits that providing a path to citizenship for undocumented residents will be a drain on the economy. While they acknowledge that it will be an initial boom to the economy, they project that it will be a drain over a 50-year period. The reasoning of their research analyst is that low-income undocumented workers, Hispanics in particular, have lower IQ’s than U.S.-citizen whites. Therefore, their children will also have lower IQ’s, creating an ongoing pool of low-income and low-IQ U.S.-citizen workers who will need government subsidies. In many circles, the Heritage Foundation analysis is being compared to efforts to defend segregation in the early and mid-twentieth century.
The U.S. is recognized as the world’s premier immigrant nation, historically the champion of freedom, a model of innovation and entrepreneurship, and by far the wealthiest nation. As we struggle to pass immigration reform and reconcile our ambivalence toward the undocumented who sustain our economy, the refugees who are our historic champions of freedom, and the newcomers who are drivers of innovation, the whole world is watching.