TIME U.S.

How LeBron James Is Just Like Us

Miami Heat
Miami Heat's LeBron James talks with the media during a press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on June 17, 2014, in Miami. Miami Herald—MCT via Getty Images

The NBA player faced that excruciating tension that comes with modern mobility: choosing between home and opportunity.

Every schoolchild in America should have to read LeBron James’ marvelously hokey essay in Sports Illustrated explaining why he’s going home to northeast Ohio. Before that, of course, they should watch a brief clip of 2010’s infamous The Decision special on ESPN. Four years ago this month, the NBA superstar announced he was leaving Cleveland and “taking [his] talents to South Beach” where he thought he would have the best “opportunity” to win championships.

In one simple, 6’8” lesson, attentive students would grasp a fundamental tension that lies at the core of American history and culture: the conflict between the comfort of home and the lure of one’s dreams.

We Americans still like to think of our country as full of new beginnings, what sociologist Philip Slater once called “a culture of becoming.” Our uniqueness, as Slater put it, has always been “in our aptitude for change and our willingness to engage in continual self-creation.”

But a country that prides itself on its mobility—geographic, economic and otherwise—is, by definition, built on a foundation of painful separations, discarded identities and homesickness.

When James left Cleveland to win championships elsewhere, he was labeled a shallow, narcissistic ingrate who was turning his back on the people who had raised and nurtured him. Much of the country seemed to agree. But in his letter explaining why he’s returning to Cleveland, James took great pains to declare that home and family were more important to him now than professional success. He mused about the importance of raising his family in his hometown of Akron, 40 minutes south of Cleveland. “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” he wrote.

I suppose all cultures sanctify the home, but Americans need to add that extra dose of schmaltz. If James’ experience tells us anything, it’s that—myths aside—following your dreams always has come at personal cost.

In our cultural imagination, “home sweet home” is where our genuine selves reside. Once we venture beyond its radius, beyond the roles ascribed to us by birth, we risk being accused of trying to be something that we’re not. We commonly employ terms like “wannabe,” “poseur,” “social climber,” and “sellout” to keep people in their place.

It turns out that the very concept of an authentic self is a product of modern mobility.

The idea emerged in Europe in the 16th Century with the end of feudalism and the emergence of a capitalist economy. Suddenly it became possible for more and more people to leave the place and class in which they were born. In new urban environments with mixed populations, people were no longer sure where they belonged in society or how they should relate to their neighbors. “The pleasures and possibilities of social mobility,” Boston University anthropologist Charles Lindholm has written, “coincided with potentials for guile and deceit.” In a world where former inferiors could pretend to outrank you, you put a premium on people’s ability to honestly declare who they really were.

For the longest time, Mexicans who chose to remain in their home country viewed emigrants to the U.S. with a mixture of admiration, resentment and envy. They used a derogatory term for their U.S.-born cousins that meant something like “watered-down Mexican” and suggested these Americanized relatives had cashed in their culture for material possessions.

In her book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson writes of the pressure many black migrants to the North felt when they made return visits to their family and friends who remained in the South. Her own mother worried about appearances as she drove back to her hometown of Rome, Georgia, in her brand-new 1956 Pontiac. “No migrant could, none would dare let on that their new life was anything less than perfect,” she wrote. “They had to prove that their decision to go north was the superior and right thing to do.”

If the expectations and resentment of others weren’t enough, those who’ve gone off to seek better lives have always been susceptible to the scourge of loneliness. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, American doctors widely acknowledged and took homesickness seriously, according to Weber State University historian Susan G. Matt. Newspapers published the tragic stories—and sometimes letters—of migrants who suffered from nostalgia, as homesickness was then called. In 1887, a 42-year-old Irish priest, J.M. McHale, reportedly fell ill not long after arriving in New York. “I cannot eat; my heart is breaking. … I am homesick,” he is quoted as saying. “My dear country, I will never set foot on your green shores again. Oh my mother how I long to see you.” Shortly after this proclamation, he lost consciousness and died. Nostalgia was listed as the cause of death.

Throughout the 20th Century, scholars documented the psychological pressures of socioeconomic mobility. In 1956, University of Chicago sociologist Peter M. Blau concluded that the upwardly mobile can suffer from having to “choose between abandoning hope of translating his occupational success into social acceptance” by his new peer group and “sacrificing valued social ties and customs” of the peers he grew up with. In 1973, University of North Dakota sociologist Alfred M. Mirande found that “upwardly mobile persons are relatively isolated from kin and friends, while downwardly mobile person have the highest level of kinship participation and are not isolated from friends.”

Today, despite the triumph of global capitalism, an individual’s origins are still seen as the source of their authentic selves while their aspirational selves are vulnerable to accusations of phoniness.

The Pew Research Center’s 2008 study on American mobility found that most Americans have moved to a new community at least once. Jobs and business opportunities are the most frequently cited reasons people give for moving today. By contrast, three-quarters of those who have remained in their hometowns their entire lives cite the pull of family ties as the main reason for staying put.

LeBron James, while a whole lot wealthier than the rest of us, faced the same dilemma as millions of Americans, past and present. That excruciating tension between the tug of home and the allure of opportunity has been central to so many family dramas and the source of so much resentment and guilt. After more than two centuries of mobility, maybe what all Americans need are those t-shirts you see fans wearing in Cleveland. You know, the ones that say “Forgiven.”

Gregory Rodriguez is publisher of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Imperfect Union column. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Immigration

Pope Francis: Child Migrants to U.S. Must Be ‘Welcomed and Protected’

Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014.
Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014. Tony Gentile—Reuters

Immigrants "continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes" said the pontiff, as the U.S. struggles to deal with a wave of unaccompanied child migrants at its southern border

The Pope has called for tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants to be “welcomed and protected” as they attempt to enter the U.S. from Central America and Mexico.

In a letter read Monday at a Vatican conference in Mexico City on human migration and development, Pope Francis said migration “has now become a hallmark of our society and a challenge.”

The Vatican Radio translation continues with the Pope noting: “Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often die, tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

The pontiff calls on nations to become more welcoming towards migrants, singling out the increasing numbers of children who migrate alone as deserving special care and attention.

“They are increasing day by day,” the Pope said, in a reference to the rising number of unaccompanied child migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border. “The humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

Pope Francis ended the letter by suggesting that the international community should inform migrants about the dangers of their journey and instead promote development in their home countries.

In an accompanying press statement, the Vatican noted since October, the U.S. has detained around 57,000 unaccompanied children, double the number from the same period last year.

TIME migration

Central American Migrants Travel North, Hoping to Find Homes in U.S.

Families and children are migrating to the U.S. in huge numbers after hearing they will not be turned away. Associated Press photographer Rebecca Blackwell has been following Central American migrants as they travel through Mexico toward the United States

Unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America have poured across the southern U.S. border in recent months. Mostly spurred by violence and poor economic conditions in Central America, the migrants also believe changes in U.S. immigration policy will allow them to stay.

They aren’t completely wrong. Because border facilities are so overwhelmed, authorities often release children into the care of relatives already in the U.S. and allow mothers with children to enter the country with a notice to appear in immigration court. Detentions of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. border have more than tripled since 2011, the Associated Press reports.

Government officials have hotly debated what to do with the increasing number of Central American migrants, but no easy solution has been found.

TIME Human Origins

Found: North America’s Most Remarkable Skeleton

The skull of Naia, as it appeared in 2011, having rolled into an upright position
The skull of Naia, as it appeared in 2011, having rolled into an upright position Photo by Roberto Chavez Arce

The extraordinarily complete remains of a 12,000 year old girl shed new light on the origins of the earliest Americans.

Just a few months ago, a report on the remarkably preserved skeleton of a child buried 12,500 years ago in what is now Montana shed some important new light on the earliest humans to reach the Western Hemisphere. The child, known as Anzick-1, showed a direct genetic kinship to most modern Native Americans. That proved what scientists have long believed: the people Columbus and other explorers encountered when they arrived from Europe were descended from ancestors who had crossed over from Asia more than 12,000 years ago.

Whether those First Americans came in one wave or many, however, and whether they set off from different parts of Asia or one has been unclear. The facial features of many ancient skeletons don’t resemble modern Native Americans all that closely, raising the possibility of different waves of immigration, from different points of origin. Since Anzick-1 didn’t come with a complete skull, he didn’t help settle the question.

But a remarkable new skeleton, discovered in an underwater cave in Mexico, may have just done so. As described in a new paper in Science, the remains belong to a teenage girl, nicknamed Naia, who lived and died between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago. Her skull, like others from her era, is narrower and taller than those of modern Native Americans. Her DNA, however, is a match for people living today.

“This suggests,” said James Chatters, an independent forensic anthropologist at a press conference, “that Paleo-Americans and Native Americans descended from the same homeland. The differences between them likely arose from evolution after [their] gene pool became separated from the rest of the world.” In short, say the authors, Naia is a sort of missing link that argues strongly for a single migration out of Asia and into the Americas.

The conclusion isn’t a slam-dunk, the researchers acknowledge: their genetic analysis is based on Naia’s mitochondrial DNA, which lives outside a cell’s nucleus, and which is passed on only by the mother. In principle, that could point to an intermingling between two immigrant groups, because one female who bred with males in both groups would pass on a single mitochondrial fingerprint. The offspring who resulted might be heirs to very different paternal genes, but they would look closely related. Only DNA from a cell’s nucleus can truly establish a single origin, and, said co-author Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas at Austin, “we don’t have data from the rest of the nuclear genome.”

They’re hoping to get it, though: only some of Naia’s remains have been removed from the cave, in order to disturb the site as little as possible. But the scientists are planning to retrieve more, which will make more-thorough testing possible.

There’s also the remaining mystery of why the skulls—and thus the faces—modern Native Americans look so different from those of their first-generation ancestors, but it’s a mystery that may have a simple answer. Even subtle changes in diet or environment could have exerted evolutionary pressures that reshaped the skull in some adaptive way. The changes could also be due to what’s known as genetic drift, a more or less random process that happens in all organisms over time.

Chatters and his colleagues don’t pretend that the story of North American migration has now been told. There are so few well-preserved skeletons of this age—a half dozen at most—that each new find has the potential to change things significantly. It took a long time for our ancestors to arrive here and settle the continent, and it will be a long time before we fully understand their journey.

TIME Italy

At Least 14 Dead as Boat Bearing Migrants Sinks South of Italy

Migrants are seen in a boat during a rescue operation by Italian navy ship San Marco off the coast to the south of the Italian island of Sicily
Migrants are seen in a boat after being rescued by an Italian navy ship on Feb. 5, 2014. Two boats carrying migrants capsized south of Italy in recent days Reuters

Two hundred migrants were rescued and at least 14 died in the second deadly shipwreck over two days in waters south of Italy, the Italian coast guard says. According to some media accounts, the boat was carrying up to 400 people when it sank between Libya and Italy

A boat carrying migrants headed for Italy sank off the coast of Libya on Monday, leaving at least 14 dead and many more missing.

Coast-guard and naval vessels have rescued about 200 people and found bodies in the water, news agency ANSA reports. According to some media accounts, the boat was carrying up to 400 people when it sank in the sea between Libya and Italy.

Military and merchant ships are still searching for more survivors and bodies in the waters surrounding the incident, the second deadly shipwreck in the area in two days. On Sunday, a migrant boat sank off the Libyan coast, claiming more than 40 lives.

More than 36,000 migrants have arrived at Italy’s southern coast during the first 4½ months of 2014, the New York Times reports.

Both Italy and Libya have called on European countries to help them cope with the increasing number of migrants from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa arriving in southern Italy with boats from Libya.

“Europe isn’t helping us,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Monday in Bologna, before calling on Europe to help accommodate the thousands of migrants arriving in Italy, ANSA reports.

On Saturday, Libya’s Interior Minister warned Europe that Libya will “flood Europe” with migrants if countries don’t help deal with the migrant crisis.

“I warn the world, especially the European Union, unless they assume their responsibility … we warn that Libya could facilitate the passage of this flood (of illegal migrants) and fast,” Salah Mazeq said, according to CNN.

[ANSA]

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