Yesterday (Friday, February 17, 2017), I received an email from a friend who is from another country. I believe, in light of all the news about immigrants and refugees, everyone needs to read this email. With my friend’s permission I have copied it below. If have chosen to leave my friend’s name off. Please read, and please share with others. If you have a FB account, please share this on our FB wall.
“For most of my life I admittedly and honestly was one who feared, shamed, judged and rejected people different than me – before and/or instead of knowing them. Whether it was through too much TV, too much religion, too little exposure, my introverted nature, fear, ignorance and/or a need to know and control (probably a combination of all), I maintained my little world.
As you may know, yesterday was ‘A day without immigrants’ in the United States.
For some time now in this country there has been a lot of important discussion about immigration in the halls of power, around water-coolers and around kitchen tables. Those discussions continue. I would like to, in my own small and personal way, contribute to those discussions.
I really do think that this country, in general, does not appreciate/understand the depth of the value that immigrants bring. Regardless of your political views, I believe any investigation of the contribution of immigrants (legal and illegal) to American society (current and past and future) would/will conclude that they significantly contribute to its day-to-day functioning. In middle-class and upper-class communities, to flourishing. I do believe that immigrants make this country better.
I also believe that immigrants are too often under valued, too often feared, and too often excluded by “born” Americans. Geography, race, culture, and religion play significant roles in this. Fear and pride and ignorance and arrogance and half-truths lead to irrationality (and vice versa). These criteria are often easily wrapped in a façade we like to call wisdom. Decisions that are truly not fact-based wise decisions (I’ve made a lot of these) often lead to othering and even demonizing. Regardless of Government action we make these decisions in our own lives/communities daily. I do acknowledge that complex decisions and policies and laws need to be made by Governments, I hope that these are truly wise decisions.
I am white. I am male. I am educated. I have a job. I am healthy. I own property and capital. English is my first language. I identify as ‘Christian.’ These are the externalities that are most often portrayed in American culture as hero, successful, saviour (sic), wise, leader, real American, self-sufficient, industrious, normal and safe. This non-threatening costume thrown over me by the dominant culture of the United States allows me to be openly accepted into that same dominant culture of the United States.
It’s only a costume because I am an Immigrant.
I live in the United States of America and I count that a blessing. I contribute to my community. I love so many places and so many people in this country. I work (yes, I hold a good job and because I have that job, an American does not). I pay taxes. I have health insurance. I pray for the United States.
So complete is my integration, that not one person, other than my American wife, asked me what I was going to do on the “day without Immigrants.” I am a legal resident alien. As much as I am accepted as ‘one of you’ based on the externalities that are acceptable to American cultural sensitivities, I am still an alien – but I am, as many say to me when they first discover I’m an immigrant, “one of the good ones.”
As an immigrant I have experienced struggles – but due to financial resources, a good attorney, race, family, and friends – these have all been overcome (with relative and comparative ease).
Yesterday, with a posture of respect, I asked some of the diverse immigrant community in America if I could fully identify with them rather than with the dominant American community. The immigrant community that contains those who are so often labeled as the ‘bad ones’. Neighbours (sic) who have different language, colour (sic), faith, culture, traditions, gender, or sexuality than mine. Those who, because of these differences are often feared, shamed, judged, attacked and rejected before they are known. Those who are often feared, shamed, judged, attacked and rejected instead of being known.
I asked for the honor to identify with them because I want to – as Father Greg Boyle says – Stand with the demonized so the demonizing will stop. I am not so arrogant as to think that because I am with them, the demonizing will stop. In fact, it is more likely that I too, will be demonized. For my own integrity and health, I need to be with the rejected, the persecuted the feared, the unknown, the stranger, the alien because I am them – blessed with an acceptable disguise.
So, to my American friends who bless me with your friendship because you took the time to get to know me. Those of you who now accept me, value me, want me around. To those who even love me…
- Think of/visualize our relationship. You know me.
- Now distort it. Keep all things equal with our friendship but picture Marten Fadelle as Brown or Black or Muslim, or Syrian, or Mexican, or Libyan.
Rather than the God-given American disguise I have – give me the identity that your biases, perspective, and narratives conjure when you think ‘immigrant’ or even ‘illegal immigrant.’
Are you still my friend? Do you still accept me? Do you still value me? Do you still want me around? Do you still love me? Would you help me?
What matters most?
I am them and they are me. We are immigrants living in America.”