I recognize that something as innocent as “the immigrant next door” might sound scary or uninviting because of all the bad rep that immigrants have been receiving in the media lately. But I can assure you, that that is not the reflection of the attitudes of all immigrants. Moreover, and in light of those things, I can imagine that some of you might still say; well, why shouldn’t we be scared when, after all, it was Muslim immigrants who flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center back in 2001, and, more recently, it was a Mexican immigrant, in Portland, Oregon, who raped a helpless 65-year-old woman at knife-point last year? And, yes, those are all fair points to make.
But firstly, and although those things are true and we need to do a better job at screening people who might not share the same values and beliefs as the rest of us, you might be surprised to know that that is not how all immigrants behave in this country. And secondly, for the majority of us that are currently here, or are planning to come here, integrating into – and adopting – the American way of life is what is at the heart of our everyday motivations.
And furthermore, before the term immigrant became synonymous with words like “terrorist,” “rapists,” and “drug dealers,” immigrants in this country were actually viewed as a hardworking, committed, and passionate group of people. And none of that has changed despite recent, negative portrayals of immigrants. Indeed, and it is widely accepted that in almost every neighborhood that immigrants were invited into, they’d managed to bring life to it, precisely because of those things. Plus, in addition to being rejuvenated by our diversity, those neighborhoods couldn’t help but buzz and crackle with the type of creativity and ingenuity that we brought to them.
Also, and with the help of our neighbors, we not only beautified those communities but we added a kind of culture and integrity to those places that was not present there before we showed up. In view of those things, I’m not surprised that even President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself, once remarked that; “The land flourished because it was fed from so many resources—and because it was [being] nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.” Now then, and with all of these things in mind, it would be disingenuous for us to, presently, dismiss the role that immigrants can play in furthering our American values and beliefs in some of our communities.
But yet, and despite how eagerly many immigrants are waiting to contribute to the American society, the future of immigrants today are, at best, wishy-washy. Thanks, in large parts, to the injudicious policies of our current president, Donald Trump. His calls for immigrants to be banned – or deported back to their countries – have created a type of situation whereby the communities who once’s welcomed us, are distrustful of our presence. In fact, in some communities, today, they’ve not only become distrustful of immigrants but they’ve actually put up signs like “build that wall” and “refugees not welcomed,” just to make sure that we weren’t confused about what their politics were.
The sad truth about our present attitudes towards immigrants is that we’ve failed to notice that what nearly all immigrants want today – and also wanted in the past – is just to live in peace, contribute to society, and provide for their families, just like any regular American. It’s difficult enough that immigrants have their own culture and customs to maintain but to now adjust to a newer culture that appears as if it never wanted them to begin with, is frustrating. The irony, of course, is that some of the very same communities that are now distrustful and uninviting to immigrants, are actually immigrants themselves.
A Maltese physician, psychologist, and author, Edward de Bono, once wrote, and I’m paraphrasing here, that; America is not just a country but it’s also an idea. And, I kid you not, it was that very same concept – of America is more than just a piece of land – that, nearly 17-years-ago, motivated our widowed father to carry four boys to this strange place called, America. And thanks to all of her wonderful opportunities and splendid resources, our family have been able to flourish and thrive in ways that would have never been possible if we were still in our native country.
And sure, we’ve had our share of difficulties, like trying, and failing, to purchase a home, being pulled over and harassed by overzealous police officers, and falling victim to the empty promises of a celebrity, who became a politician, and then now, the president of the United States, saying that his tax plans would make the incomes of working families like ours, great again. But, still, the type of experiences that we’ve had, and the sort of caring, interesting and robust people that we’ve encountered so far, has made this whole American idea – or dream, for those of you see it that way – worth it.
In a 1977 interview with William F. Buckley, Margaret Thatcher was talking about why she was so attracted by the American way of life, that she remarked; “I couldn’t care two-hoots where a person comes from…what I care about is what they got to contribute to society.” In other words, it shouldn’t matter what a person’s background is, so long as they’re willing to contribute to the success of their society, then they’re more than welcomed to stay.
Now then, and before you rush to make the immigrant next door a persona-non-grata, it might be more constructive to first ask yourself; what sort of things can he/she contribute to my community or to my society? And I guarantee you, that if you were to approach such persons and ask them that question, you’d be surprised to discover how similar their goals may align with your own.
Image by Nitish Meena by Unsplash
Margaret Thatcher’s 1977 interview with William F. Buckley; Firing Line.