In his poem Mending Wall, the poet Robert Frost wrote about a wall that kept him from knowing his neighbor. As an immigrant to this country whose family came from behind the Iron Curtain and what was East Germany, I have first hand knowledge of how walls, and fences can physically and philosophically separate people.
I also know what it means when people will risk their lives, leave family and everything familiar to cross barriers for no other reason than hope. My parents were such people. My father ran in the night like a criminal ahead of the regime’s secret Stasi police leaving behind his factory, a wife, new born daughter, and everything he knew. My mother followed months later leaving my sister with relatives, crossing between patrols, and a lawless no man’s land filled with bandits and murderers. My sister received safe passage through the Red Cross.
Once together again, my family’s migration took them through a ravaged West Germany, to Canada, and finally to settle in the United States. World war two was still fresh in the minds of many and we were treated cruelly by some and with unforgettable kindness by others especially upon my father’s death six months after our arrival. His death left my mother now with six children alone in our adopted country.
Thanks to its’ greatness, five of those six children my father and mother had risked all to bring to this country have their own businesses, creating opportunity for others as well as themselves. A safety net provided by social security, helping hands from strangers and the community has been repaid by children, now adults who have become productive members to an American society whose promise it is that with dedication and hard work anyone can succeed.
When in 1987 President Reagan declared “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall” and down it came, the world cheered. I called my mother who had crossed it decades earlier. As she wept she shared that never in her lifetime had she expected to see this day.
The iron curtain was built to regulate migration. While each country should regulate its’ borders, any idea which hopes to satisfy this by building a wall to keep people in or out should be abandoned.
I believe that the world cheers for an America that stands for tearing down walls and for building bridges toward global opportunity for the poor and disenfranchised. As a country founded by and for people who came here in search of hope and to escape starvation or oppression, building walls will not only keep others from that American dream, but will keep us inside those walls from realizing this dream as well.
This is because I believe that the optimism and hope that is the American dream is not some rare mineral mined and to be guarded within U.S. borders. I believe the dream exists and is renewed by every newcomer who brings hope of better tomorrows as his or her most valued possession.
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