New Colossus

Twas the night before July Fourth, and honestly I’m not sure how to feel.

Do I celebrate freedom, when so many are in cages?

Do I celebrate democracy, when the popular vote didn’t win?

Do I celebrate liberty, when my rights are decreasing?

Do I celebrate the military, in which I have family serving?

Do I celebrate the pursuit of happiness, when I seldom see it?

Honestly, I don’t much feel like celebrating Independence Day. It feels a little too ironic and short-sighted. It feels like we haven’t come so far from where we were 200 years ago. And I guess that bothers me. But I think that there’s something to be said about the here and now.

A couple hundred years ago, my ancestors began coming to America. They were escaping persecution, famine, war, the plague and more. They wanted to start over. And some came with nothing. Some came with their families, some came with more. But one by one they all came. One or two had been here in America since time immemorial, but almost everyone came from somewhere else. They were met with uncertainty and fear. They may have treated others kindly, or maliciously, I don’t know.

For most of my life, I wondered about those people. About what it must have been like to travel to somewhere they had no ties and just start over. I didn’t know their names then, but I wondered what they thought about, how it felt, why they chose what they did. And I know that coming to Kansas wasn’t the same thing, but it has many similarities.

Image result for statue of liberty immigration

I drove through the night, we had car trouble, we left so much of our stuff behind. We came here without knowing anyone here. We came here to start over, and to be educated. We came with what we could stuff in our tiny vehicle and said goodbye to our parents, friends, homes. I remember passing cornfields I’d looked at for decades and wondering when I would see them again. I remember taking pictures of places we’d worked, we’d visited, just to keep the memory of how things were. I remember leaving in the dead of night, knowing it would be a long time before I’d feel comfortable with my choices.

And when we got here, nothing made sense. It was like exploring a new place with no understanding of where anything was, who anyone was. We were alone here for three ish weeks. And it was the longest, loneliest three weeks of my life. School began and things felt more familiar. Ish.

All that to say, I didn’t come to Kansas because I was afraid for my life in Ohio. I came because I needed a chance at a better future.

I watch the news, as much as I can stomach, and I see the people coming to the borders, asking for no less than I did. Asking for no less than my ancestors did. And they are being denied. And it breaks my heart and boils my blood.

I am incredibly lucky to have had ancestors who took a chance on somewhere completely foreign. I am no less fortunate to have made my own journey for the same reasons. But the people coming today are being forced away, shoved into internment centers, subjected to all kinds of humanitarian terrorism. The difference between them and myself or my ancestors is one single thing. My ancestors were largely white and came from Europe. And that is not, in any way, acceptable.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

New Colossus, Emma Lazarus
The base of the Statue of Liberty

This is my anthem. This is who I am. This is the America I believe in, not the tyrannical, dictator-led America that everyone sees. I stand for the immigrant’s America.

 

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One Eye Open

If the America of my youth could be said to be the “melting pot”, my adolsecence found Columbus to be the snow globe version of the whole. I was surrounded by differing opinions, religions, ideas and lifestyles-and found merits in almost all of them. Some of my favorite moments were when I could engage a stranger in a conversation that brought my faith in humanity up. I remember working at Subway one day and being able to understand the Latina woman before her son translated and then wished her well in her own language. She started laughing and the son and I spoke of how wild it is that I would take the time to treat his mother as an equal (well, formal equal). I remember interacting with a Muslim woman who became overjoyed that I would understand her not eating pork, and that I knew it was her holiday. If Columbus was my own personal melting pot, I became delighted to explore the rest.

I’ve had a lot of eye opening experiences-and not all of them for the better. When I was assaulted, I saw the depravity of human nature. I saw the victim-blaming and felt the humiliation that came from not being able to cope. When I moved to Kansas, I was confronted with the fact that people didn’t accept my belief system, and that the names of the LGBT club members were not released because of fear of violence and possibly death against them. I was a blue dot living in an overwhelmingly red state. I came to understand why it was such an issue to blend in when you were born to stick out. I was rebuffed for my naïveté-that I should not have been surprised that the things that made me (and millions of other people) different, were suddenly the things that made it dangerous.

And then I understood.

You see, I had always been on the other side. I was the ally that showed others that not all (insert category here) people were bad. I was the person who worked hard to be the best ally I could be-without ever really understanding the gravity of what I was allying for. And now, being on the flip side-they’re even more important. I’ve met friends who accept me for who I am, and that’s wildly important. Because how many times have we all needed someone to make the darkness stay away? 

But I now understand why speaking Spanish to a woman in a predominantly white neighborhood was a novel thing. I now understand why being kind and considerate to a Muslim woman was considered something out of the norm. It isn’t because they expect every single person to be vehemently against who they are- it’s that too many people are against who they are. They, much the same as I, were looking for a beacon, a person to tell them that it is okay to keep being absolutely just yourself. That there is a place for all the differences, no matter how alone you might feel.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” -Dr. Seuss