As you ready your house flags, don your sunscreen and set up your BBQ’s, I would love if we all reflected a bit on what it means to be an American.
For a long awhile, I admit to having never given much thought to what it means to be an American. I’ve always been one and have enjoyed all of it’s privileges and rights. After all, we are the envy of many other countries. So much so, that people will risk their lives to come here.
Think about that for a minute. How bad would it have to be for you, in your own life, to risk everything in order to get yourself to another country?
I don’t live far from Murrieta, California. For those not following the news, there are refugees from places like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, most of them children and young mothers with babies, who have risked their lives and their children’s lives because it is so very bad where they come from they seek a better life in the United States.
They’ve walked miles with only as much as they could carry. They’ve dangerously jumped on trains to hitch a ride some of the way. They’ve crossed hot and barren deserts, climbed mountains, and many have died.
One of these mothers was interviewed on our local news. She said her two children had no future in her village. It was nothing but poverty and crime with no way out. So she made the heart wrenching decision to attempt to make it to the United State’s border. She said she heard if they made it, they might be allowed to stay, or they might be sent back. She understood the odds. She also didn’t feel as though she was doing anything illegal as she knew, if her plan worked, she would at some point meet up with American Border Patrol.
Despite what she did know, she had no idea some Americans would be so very unwelcoming once she arrived. Screaming at her and her children as their bus approached the Murrieta processing center. Causing such havoc, the bus turned away due to security concerns.
I wonder what my ancestors thought as they made the voyage over the Atlantic to get here. They knew, once they reached the process center at the other end, they was also a chance they would be sent back. Illnesses from a sniffle to lice, could mean the difference between life and death for the family. It could also mean children separated from their parents.
My Polish ancestors were called stupid and given menial jobs upon their immigration. My Romanian ancestors had an even tougher time, called gypsies and not even trusted enough to be employed. Yet, through hard work and that ever present American dream that made them roll the dice, my Polish great-grandparents found themselves a Polish speaking area in Detroit and set up a corner store. Never learning English. My Romanian ancestors doing just as well, with my grandfather owning his own travel and insurance company after starting off, shall we say, a bit less ‘legal’ in order to make ends meet. Before his death he told us all stories of his first job…running alcohol between Windsor, Canada and Detroit, MI for none other than Al Capone.
Both were discriminated against, but I don’t remember my history class teaching us of throngs of anti-immigrant Americans attempting to block the ships and send them all back. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if they had, in fact, tried.
So as I watch these children look out the windows of federal buses, seeing screaming (predominately) white folk waving the Red, White, and Blue…I wonder what they must be thinking. How scared they must be. How very, very scared their parents must be…willing to, perhaps, change their last names to sound more American or even deny their homeland in the hopes it will help them get through the processing center. Desperately willing their families be allowed to stay together, and desperately hoping what they have heard is true…that this truly is the land of opportunity.
I have yet to hear one of them say, when interviewed, they ‘heard’ they could get ‘free stuff’ if they made it. All of them talk of hoping to find work, any kind of work, immediately.
Hear that? They want to work. They aren’t asking for hand outs.
This morning I’m listening to another of these mothers…this one from Honduras, speak of how she nearly lost her children as they crossed a river trying to get to our land of liberty. She was in tears speaking of their journey, the entire time saying if only they could get to America, everything would be ok. She would find work and no matter what, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the dirt floor of their shanty that was left behind.
I am sickened these refugees were ‘welcomed’ by residents (and non-residents) of Murrieta demanding they ‘go back to Mexico’ and ‘get their diseases out of our city.’
Sound familiar? It should. It wasn’t long ago Americans of a certain kind believed Black Americans should use different toilets for fear their imagined diseases. As if scabies (the disease most often seen by border agents) was some odd, untreatable malady and only brown people carried it.
So this 4th of July I find myself wondering what it truly means to be American. For the majority of us, it means to be an immigrant. Unless you are of Native American decent. There are tales of Native American blood in my family tree, although none confirmed. So really, just like most of us, my family risked a great deal to journey to a foreign land that held nothing but promises. That they heard offered opportunities where if you worked hard, you could become anything you wanted to be. I don’t ever remember that promise being ‘if you did nothing, you got free stuff…so come on over!’
No, just like my ancestors and just like these scared mothers I’m watching on the news, the tale remains the same. They heard if you came to America and worked hard you could be anything. And your children, your precious children, had a chance at a better life.
I want to take this 4th to thank my ancestors for believing in that dream and I want to tell those refugees those of us who are Americans still believe in that dream and I hope they still can too. We don’t all hate you or want you to be turned away.
This 4th of July I hope this new wave of immigration is welcomed-regardless of how they got here. I hope they are processed and given a chance. The same chance my ancestors were given. Some choosing to walk the straight and narrow to make ends meet and others bending the rules a bit, but all believing in hard work.
This 4th of July I also hope those of us citizens think hard about what it means to be an American, because I now think that definition includes offering that same chance to those who journey here under horrifying and harrowing circumstances we can’t even imagine and give some chance to these families. Not to mention respect, not hate and anger.
Shame on you, Murrieta.
*Update 8:24am July 3rd, 2014 – this is a link to the fliers they are passing out in Murrieta, CA. I ask you: How healthy are these families that have walked thousands of miles, hiking over mountains, and crossing rivers? Give me a break. Perhaps if we all VACCINATE and treat these families (if they do have any of these diseases, as I said before scabies has been the only reported one thus far) during processing (that’s what happens when the buses arrive, they are PROCESSED AND TREATED) we really won’t have any sort of health criss on our hands here, now will we? Unless you mean to tell me these people are different somehow? Cue scene from The Help where new bathrooms are build just for those diseased black folk….