That means that every human being – without distinction of sex, age, race, skin color, language, religion, political view, or national or social origin – possesses an inalienable and untouchable dignity.—Hans Kung
Point of origin has always, throughout history, been an important part of our identity. To which tribe one belonged could mean the difference between free or slave, or even life and death. Our species began as nomadic foragers, roaming to where ever food and shelter were most readily available, but the place from where we started, our point of origin, has always been, and strongly remains, a critical factor upon which judgments, whether just or not, have been made. Inherent social construct inserts a geographic tag into our identity from which there is no escape.
One of the reasons our point of origin so often comes into question is because we, as a species, don’t stay put. Even after all the building of cities and farms, creating and fighting over national borders, and even cruel attempts at keeping people in or out of certain places, we are now more migrant than we have ever been. Our point of origin is but a GPS marker from which all our travels begin. Move so much now that scientists who study such things are referring to the 21st century as the age of the migrant. Not only are we already moving around a lot, it’s going to get worse.
We are all migrants, not because we are born as such, but we cannot help becoming such, leaving our point of origin, sometimes by choice, but with increasing frequency because we have no choice. By engaging in this conversation, it is important to understand the vocabulary. An emigrant is someone known by where they have left. An immigrant is known by where they are going. Coming or going, though, there are over one billion people on the move at any given time, and that number is growing rapidly.
People today relocate to greater distances more frequently than ever before in human history. While many people may not move across a regional or international border, they tend to change jobs more often, commute longer and farther to work, change their residence repeatedly, and tour internationally more often. Some of these phenomena are directly related to recent events, such as the impoverishment of middle classes in certain rich countries after the ﬁnancial crisis of 2008, subsequent austerity cuts to social welfare programs, and rising unemployment. The subprime mortgage crisis led to the expulsion of millions of people from their homes worldwide (9 million in the United States alone). Foreign investors and governments have acquired 540 million acres since 2006, resulting in the eviction of millions of small farmers in poor countries, and mining practices have become increasingly destructive around the world—including hydraulic fracturing and tar sands. This general increase in human mobility and expulsion is now widely recognized as a deﬁning feature of the twenty-ﬁrst century.
Whether to keep us out, keep us in, or simply segregate us for statistical purposes, both societies and governments are concerned with our point of origin as a defining piece of information. There is no escape. The more we move, the more we are connected to where we began. Our great migration is a tremendous force of social change and progress. The world into which one is born holds little resemblance to the one in which we die.
So, more than ever, there remains this question: where are you from?