George W. Bush is Painting an Empathetic Image of US Immigration

Former US President George W. Bush famously said, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande river.” It was his way of answering all those angry questions on the campaign trail about how he would stop “illegal immigrants”. If moms and dads couldn’t feed their kids in Mexico, he explained, they would try to provide for their families in the United States.

George W. Bush repeated this sentiment speaking at SXSW about his upcoming book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants.” This book is a beautiful testament to the tapestry of diversity that makes “America Great!” It features the stories of 43 immigrants along with their portraits, painted by the former President.

He opens “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” with the following, “I delayed publication of this book so as to avoid the politics of a presidential election year. I did not want the people I painted to become exploited politically. While I recognize that immigration can be an emotional issue, I reject the premise that it is a partisan one. … Becoming an American citizen is challenging, time-consuming, and competitive – as it should be. The immigration system is also confusing, costly, and inefficient, and needs to be fixed.“

Despite having suffered tremendously before coming to the US, and I’m certain also after arriving at the place they thought would be a welcoming source of refuge, these people only speak about how grateful and proud they are to be American. It’s really quite beautiful.

In his address to the nation on May 15, 2006, he stated:

“We’re a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We’re also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time.”
~ George W. Bush

This sentiment is summed up perfectly in this book and echoed in his interview. During his interview, he stated that although we do need to secure our nation’s borders, we also need a fair and just immigration system that provides protections for people who come to the US to work and seek a better life.

One of the best things about Bush’s writing of “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” is that the profits from the book sales will go to support nonprofits that provide services to help immigrants settle in the US.

One Cuban man whose parents sent him to the US at 14 recalls how he thinks about his immigrant story now: “Later on in life, when you have kids, you learn that’s the greatest sacrifice a parent can make: to separate from a child in order to save them.”

In “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” Bush reminds us how deeply intertwined immigration is to the DNA of America. In the book, she states, “Yet for all our noble intentions of being a welcoming nation, some throughout the years have reacted negatively, and sometimes harshly, to immigrants. At times, immigration has inspired fear – fear of open borders, fear of job losses, fear of cultural degradation. Presidents have had a choice: to soothe those fears or to stoke them. History shows that the latter route should be the road less taken.”

Being the child of an immigrant, I greatly appreciate this book. I fully enjoyed listening to Bush talk about his experience writing it and his reasoning behind doing so. It’s an extremely timely read and a message that everyone should hear.