Charles Day’s Aug. 17 letter about citizenship benefits (“Don’t freely give benefits of citizenship to whoever asks“) deserves a response – not about the Portland City Council’s deliberations on non-citizens and voting rights, but about Mr. Day’s use of Zambian Allan Monga’s poetry contest victory to illustrate his objection.

Mr. Day writes: “What Mr. Monga has achieved is to take something that belongs to Americans and obtain it for himself and any other persons who should want it.”

If there is to be talk of taking anything from anyone, then let’s put it in context. During the years I lived in Zimbabwe and Zambia, I witnessed the systematic taking of Africa’s natural resources, customs and cultures by outside political and economic forces. This hasn’t been confined to the colonial period. It continues today in various forms – via much of the American-rooted development industry, for instance – and the whole has contributed mightily to destabilizing that continent.

I find common ground with Mr. Day by admitting that local voting rights for non-citizens is not something I view as a top City Council priority. But one young man’s contest victory hardly represents the slippery slope Mr. Day depicts. And urging honest introspection about this country’s international practices doesn’t signal “a distaste for one’s own people.”

Elizabeth C. Parsons


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