Sunday, January 29, 2017

Now is not the time for silence

Something you may not know about me; I'm an immigrant. In fact I'm an immigrant times over.

First of all, I'm an American of European descent. A melange of Scottish, Irish, English, German, French and who knows what else. All immigrants to the United States at various stages of history. I am the product of that beautiful mix of cultures that can only come about in an immigration friendly society.

Beyond that, I have lived, studied, worked, and grown up in a number of countries outside of the US. The first was Germany; for 2.5 years when I was a child. My father got a job with PanAm and we all got visas, moved to Germany, and came and went as we pleased until another job took us back to the US. Germans were kind to us, supportive of our attempts to learn the language even when they spoke excellent English, and generally pleasant about our appearance in their country.

Next was Spain. For my second year of University, through a study abroad program, I applied for a student visa and lived and studied in Spain for a year. I arrived mere days after the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers and everyone I met was supportive, kind, and sympathetic. My host family was worried about my family back home, but I assured them that everyone was fine. Security was tight with a newfound apprehensiveness, but nonetheless I never received any hassle about my visa while coming or going.

More recently was Japan. Two years with a work visa to teach English came with full access to Japan's healthcare system, and the majority of the people I encountered were very welcoming, despite Japan's more xenophobic history and proclivities. I have many fellow expat friends who made families and lives for themselves there and are still living there today.

Currently, I reside in Canada with my husband and our new daughter, who was granted Canadian citizenship simply for being born on Canadian soil. I have my permanent resident card, the equivalent of a Green Card in the US, and now I can come and go easily between the two countries.

I am an immigrant. I am making a life outside of the country I was born in, as I have done on multiple occasions, for no better reason than a job offer, an interest in improving my language skills, a curiosity about the rest of the world, or, most recently, because I fell in love with a Canadian.

My husband has been an immigrant a few times in his life and he too comes from immigrant stock. If he hadn't been allowed to live in the US we never would have met. My life would be very different; my daughter would not exist.

Of course, people don't think of people like me when they think of immigrants, not in the US, and not in Canada either. Certainly the kind of people who voted for Trump because they thought he would change the nation back to a place they felt comfortable in don't think of me when they think of immigrants. They probably think of people who have a different skin tone than I do, or who wear different clothing. Maybe they picture head scarves or turbans, maybe they expect a detectable accent or a lack of facility with English. When I tell people here that I'm an immigrant they often chuckle and say, "well you don't count."

Really? I don't count? Why not?

Some of them actually mean that I haven't gone through the upheaval of leaving my own culture for a completely new one just to try to improve the life of my family. In those few cases, they are certainly right. Canada is very similar to the US, and I was prosperous and safe before I moved here. However, what most people mean is that I'm "just like them" so, I'm not what they're talking about when they say immigrant.


They are just like me. They ARE ME. They are people making a life in a different country because of a job, or a chance to improve their language skills, or to study, or because they fell in love with someone, or, perhaps the most important reason, because they cannot safely live their lives in the country in which they were born.

I have never had to immigrate for that reason. I have never HAD to immigrate at all. For me, it has been a choice, every time. I have never been a refugee.

I have also had the unearned privilege of coming from a background that has meant that I have rarely encountered people who judge me based on my appearance, or my accent, or my choice of clothing. Just by dint of my birth and upbringing, people don't look twice at me in the street, but rather do a double take of disbelief if I happen to mention that I am an immigrant. I did nothing to earn this passive approval. It's no special trick that I've learned. It's simply based on the color of my skin, the cultural norms for clothing I was brought up to wear, and the fact that English is my first language, and a generic North American English at that. Canadians never suspect me of being American either.

I mention all of this not because I think I've earned a cookie. I mention this to illustrate a point. The people who are currently being detained as they try to return to their homes in the United States ARE EXACTLY LIKE ME. The fact that they may not look like me, or dress like me means NOTHING. They are people who have gone through the arduous process of acquiring a visa, or a green card. They are people who have spent countless hours waiting in line to file paperwork, who have submitted themselves to background check after background check, who have had their identity checked and rechecked over and over again, and have had to shell out money and more money in order to have people look over all that paperwork and finally say: "yes, you can come to America."

They have ALREADY DONE ALL OF THAT. They have lives in the US. Homes, friends, jobs, classes, lovers, husbands, wives, children, family, LIVES... and they are being kept from returning to those lives not because the best minds in the US have sat down and decided that the process which accepted them into the US was too lax. Not because the process has been assessed and deemed unworthy. Not because a democratic process has decided that they are a threat to the country. No.

They have been barred from returning home because the new president of the United States has thrown the constitution out the window and decided ON HIS OWN that he will bar them from returning.

I don't care which party you affiliate with, you should be horrified at what that means. It's such an egregious affront to the constitution that it only took the ACLU a day to get a federal judge to support an injunction on it. But it seems unlikely that that's the end of the story.

It is important that we all speak out against this. It's important that we all speak out against all of the injustice we see coming from the White House in coming days.

It took me a long time to write about Trump's election because I didn't know where to start, and I couldn't figure out how to put all I wanted to say into a single blog post. I can't. I won't. It will take many many posts for me to get it all out, but I will start trying to as often as I can because SILENCE IS NOT THE ANSWER.

Perhaps it's simply that I felt this was the first injustice that I could address with personal experience. I imagine what it would mean if I were to go to the United States to visit family (as I plan to do in coming months) and then if Canada tried to bar me from returning. How would it feel to be separated from my husband? Would they let me keep my daughter or would they send her back to her country of origin without me? These are questions that real people are forced to ask themselves right now, all because of the whim of a little man who is afraid of "other." Yet these people are not "other," they are us. They are you, they are ME.

I am an immigrant. I'll say it again so that you really understand. I'm not an immigrant "but," I am an immigrant. And, unless you are 100% Native American, SO ARE YOU. Your family once came here seeking refuge, seeking a better life, or maybe just to study, or to find a job, or because they fell in love. They came and were accepted. They made a life, and now you are an American. It is the backbone of our society (yes even with all the injustice it has pushed upon the people who were here before us, and the people who were brought here against their will--that too is part of our history). For better or worse it is how the United States has become what it is today.

This is only one of the many injustices that have come from the White House in the past eight days. I haven't written yet because it is difficult to find the time, with an infant to care for, and I have found myself repeatedly at a loss for words. Today I realized that I can't stay silent. We need every voice that can be raised to raise itself now.

I am an immigrant. Immigrants are us.  We are immigrants. It is not a question of US VS. THEM; they are us. THEY ARE US! And we cannot do this to ourselves. We simply can't. Do not sit by and allow your people to be persecuted this way. And make no mistake these are your people. I don't care what day of the week you deem holy, what you do with your hair, or how much melanin is in your skin, DO NOT make the mistake of thinking that the people this affects are somehow different than you. They are not. They are people who have families, who love people, who have friends, who want to study or work, and want to return to their lives. They are you. They are me. It's a question of us. And we should not allow this to be done to us. Not to any of us.

Now is not the time for silence. Speak up. Let everyone know how you feel about this. Let everyone know that we won't allow this to happen to us. We will not allow ourselves to be treated this way. We will shout, we will rally, we will donate to the ACLU, we will make our voices heard and we will demand justice.

If you want immigration reform, fine. That's a thing to work towards, using a democratic process, with research, assessment, oversight, and the protection of people's rights and freedoms at its heart. It is NOT the work of the stroke of a pen on a piece of paper alienating a huge portion of our population. It is not a ban that reminds historians all over the world of the beginning of Nazi Germany.

Speak up, and keep speaking up until the injustice is at an end.

Now is not the time for silence.

I beseech you, friends, speak for yourself, for those whose voices are being stifled, and for us all. This kind of oppression only spreads if it isn't stopped.


An Immigrant