This I believe:
I had never in my life seen so many lights as I did the night my family arrived in America. As we flew from New York to Washington DC-our new American home-the ground below us was lit up, millions of little lights coming together to form a warm glow that in my child’s mind I imagined was saying: “welcome little immigrant, we are glad to have you.
The miracles of American life did not stop when we got off the plane. Life in the United States was so different from where I came from-our rental one bedroom plus den apartment in Rockville, a suburb of Washington was probably three times bigger than our studio back in Minsk, Belarus. At the grocery store in America, there were no lines for food-you could just walk up and down the always stocked aisles and pick out whatever you wanted. In the America we landed in, the stores always had bananas, and other fruits I had only heard of like pineapples and coconuts. There were cherries in winter. There were people handing out free food in the aisles. There was ice cream made out of soy!
When we first arrived in America, we had a few suitcases with the meager belongings the Soviet authorities had allowed us to take with us and a few thousand dollars my parents had managed to scrape together by selling most everything we owned. Now, less than 20 years later, my family is comfortable upper middle class. While my parents are no longer together, both have found happiness with other partners, bought houses, taken vacations to far away lands, and even put me through a private American college-with no financial aid. I believe my family is living the American Dream.
As much as I love this country for everything it has offered me and my family, these days, I wonder where those warm glowing welcoming lights of America have gone. It seems everywhere I turn, there is someone screaming for immigrants to go home, and often, I don’t hear a distinction between legal and illegal. We don’t want some other country’s poor people, they say. We don’t want unskilled workers, others chime in. Give us the Indian programmer with the H1-B, send back the Mexican laborer.
I hear this and I cringe inside. Even though my family came here legally, to me, America has always been the country that took in those the rest of the world did not want-the British puritans who could not fully practice their religious beliefs back home in Europe, the Irish poor fleeing the famines at home, the Italians looking for work and opportunity in the new land. The people who settled here were often Europe’s poorest, downtrodden, uneducated, lower classes. I believe there is a reason that the Lady of Liberty reaches out to us and asks us to give her “your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.”
I believe that I live in a country that is built on the shoulders of people who came here to seek opportunities-whether religious or economic, people who did not have these opportunities wherever they came from. A country where our immigrant spirits-hard work, love of family, desire to make a better life–have always been the drivers of this country’s economic success. I believe that those coming here, legally or not, whatever way they can find to get here, just want to be Americans, Americans just like me. I believe in my country’s welcoming spirit. I believe we need to be building bridges to those who want a chance at the American dream, not building walls to keep them out.
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