Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Nation of Immigrants

I don't cry often, but after waking up and beginning to read about the American ban on all refugees as well as immigrants from seven nations in effect this morning, my vision grew blurry. Even now as I write this, after reading more articles and sitting at my desk in the sun as one of the most beautiful days yet this year unfolds outdoors, I'm swallowing and trying not to cry. 

I skyped with two friends from Europe this morning as I do occasionally on weekend mornings. Lydia, in Germany, and Zieshan in London. When I last visited Germany four years ago, I remember Lydia pointing out the stars on the sidewalk to mark where Jewish families once lived before the second World War. I met Zieshan four years ago when we were both studying at St. Andrews. He is Muslim, born in the U.K. to immigrant parents and I've learned so much about the importance of family from him. More than anything though, we relate as two young people living and working in Britain and the United States. 

Later in the morning, between planting succulents and running errands, I thought of Cleophace, a refugee who arrived in Vermont from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s. He lost his mother to the conflict and was separated from his wife for seven years. We were classmates. I volunteered and fundraised alongside him for the non-profit organization he founded, Ibutwa, which directly supports women in the DRC who've been harmed in the genocide and civil war. He educated our entire college and surrounding community multiple times each year about the conflict and how we could be aware, involved, and supporting civilians. We even appeared on a local television news show together a few years ago. He's an attorney now, with four children and contributes far more to his community and society than I do to mine. In my final year of college, I met Halah in a peace and justice course. She was my age and graduated high school with the second highest academic scores in all of Iraq. We met up often after class to discuss boyfriends and assignments.

There are so many more refugee and immigrant stories we all hold, before even mentioning that we are a nation of and for immigrants. I first read the Diary of Anne Frank as a college senior, and immediately regretted that I hadn't read it sooner. Despite the seven decade age difference between us, Anne wrote and dreamed and thought and spoke just like I had as a young teenager. Her diary personified the holocaust, delving into the story of one of six million lives lost. Had the world looked differently upon refugees 70 years ago, she could still be alive today, contributing greatly to any nation or society. I had never seen the words below until yesterday, but it makes me so sad to imagine the Frank family being among the 300,000 Europeans who applied for a few thousand spots to emigrate to the United States in 1941 after the fall of Holland, Poland and France. I want to believe today is different from 1941, but there are few signs that barring refugees and immigrants has ever produced greater world peace or prevented conflict and death beyond our borders. And yes, I'm not focusing on within our borders because we do not choose where we are born. I have no greater right to safety and security than a Syrian or Iraqi. I do not believe in keeping "them" out to keep "us" safe when neither of use had a choice in our surroundings. We are not in a world war, but the same anti-semitism and desire to not admit civilians from countries embroiled in war from 1941 is unarguably repeating itself today with fear of Islam and nations in the Middle East.

April 30, 1941
"I am forced to look out for emigration and as far as I can see, U.S.A. is the only country we could go to, perhaps you remember that we have two girls. It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance."  
-- Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank

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