Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.

A woman looks through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, toward the United States. Photo © Bill McLaughlin 2019.


The blue and yellow flags of Ukraine that flew so proudly in our communities last year have faded. Many have disappeared from front porches, yards and windows.

I guess we’re tired of reading and hearing about the war, more than a year after Vladimir Putin invaded the sovereign nation next door. (Perhaps he was tired of just imprisoning political opponents and journalists or throwing them out of six-story windows). 

In America, we have short attention spans.

The news these days is less about bombed-out buildings, grisly killings and resilient Ukrainians huddled in basements. The focus seems to have shifted to arguments over how many billions we’re spending “over there” — as if you and I can comprehend what a billion dollars means, whether it’s for tanks and guns or football stadiums. 

Perhaps it’s compassion fatigue. 

But I, for one, still fly a flag from my front porch.

Not a Ukrainian flag, mind you, but a rotation of flags representing several other countries where people are suffering and dying — not necessarily from the evil actions of a sociopath, but really, should that matter?

Guatemala. Nicaragua. Venezuela. Mexico. Haiti. 

I probably will add the flags of a few other countries that most Americans know absolutely nothing about and don’t care about.

Why is that?

It’s easier to vilify a madman like Putin than to take a clear-eyed look at what’s happening elsewhere, to try to understand why people are fleeing other countries — often courtesy of more than a century of American “intervention” for political or business reasons. (Neither major political party has clean hands.)

Apathy and our busy lives rule the day.

Ukraine is a relatively simple humanitarian crisis to follow — bad guy killing good people.

I begrudge the Ukrainians nothing. We should indeed welcome them with open arms. 

But if “the greatest nation on earth” can provide safe harbor for one group of people, what’s stopping us from doing the same for the men, women and children from other nations who are suffering and dying as well?

Could it be that the victims of Putin’s evil have white skin? 

I have written here before about the racism of U.S. immigration policy at work in Tijuana, Mexico, where Ukrainians were escorted en masse last year to the port of entry, literally walking past people with brown and black skin who had been waiting months, years for an asylum hearing in the U.S.

That’s why I fly these other flags.

More than 2,000 miles away at the southern border and here in my community, I have met people from those countries as well as others. They are kind and decent human beings, fleeing persecution and danger that we cannot comprehend. 

Two examples:

Last year on Mother’s Day, an asylum seeker from Cuba came through the line at the Team Brownsville welcome center in Texas, a stone’s throw from Matamoros, Mexico. He was on a video call with his mom back in Cuba, and when someone told him it was also Mother’s Day here, he held up his phone so that all the volunteers could wish her feliz Día de las Madres

The man could barely contain his joy and told us he was so grateful to be in America.

Closer to home, through a Central New York organization that supports immigrants, once a month I deliver boxes of food from a pantry to a family of four from Guatemala that works on a dairy farm. They work long hours in extreme temperatures and their income level qualifies them for food assistance.

Every month I am greeted by their beautiful 4-year-old son, who is eager to show me his toy cars and animals, and often grabs my hand — or wraps his arms around my legs — so that I will stay and play with him. He is no different from my grandchildren or any other child who deserves love and kindness. This family is no different from mine, or yours.

I think of that little boy when I fly the bandera of his family’s native land from my front porch. 

On windy days, the sky blue and white flag of Guatemala, and the more vivid colors of the other countries, flap in the breeze. The flags are large and hard to miss.

Most of my neighbors walk or drive past and don’t notice.

Or maybe they just prefer not to see. 

Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency. He makes regular trips to the U.S.-Mexico border to volunteer with groups that assist migrants and asylum seekers.

2 thoughts on “Flying the flag … for whom?

  1. Jim McKeever says:

    Reblogged this on Jim McKeever and commented:

    It’s easier to vilify a madman like Putin than to take a clear-eyed look at what’s happening elsewhere, to try to understand why people are fleeing other countries — often courtesy of more than a century of American “intervention” for political or business reasons.


  2. drmmclaughlin says:

    Jim … another excellent post! There are so many in need now. In addition, homelessness has been increasing. We need to find a way to prioritize human beings over profits and greed.


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