A few days ago my sister shared an article on social media that discussed the existence of Immigrant Heritage Month and the use of the hashtag #IAmAnImmigrant. And then that got me thinking about another article I had perused recently about how the British who live abroad always call themselves expats and other immigrants “immigrants”, as if the word immigrant is dirty, wrong. I’m British and I’ve been an immigrant most of my life. The word doesn’t sound dirty or fearful or wrong to me, it just describes that I have moved from the country I was born in to another. And another. And a few more after that. Would it surprise you if I said that as a family we left England in the late 80’s to find a better life? We were not fleeing oppression or death, famine or hatred, but we were fleeing a country where the working class was being stomped upon and where the government ruled with an iron fist. My mother wanted a better life for us all.
We emigrated to The Netherlands. And then to France. Years and years later I followed my mother and sister and brother out to the US, emigrating yet again. I spent some years on a temporary visa, working, some time without any visa, working, and finally got my green card about 11 years after my mother sponsored me for one. I am an immigrant in a country that is made up of scattered natives, immigrants, ancestors of immigrants and people who were brought here as slaves. Oh, hang on, maybe I should have said it differently. I am an immigrant in a country that used to be the home of different Native American tribes but is now a place where the descendants of immigrants, "legal" immigrants, "illegal" immigrants, a few asylum seekers or refugees and a bunch of descendents of slaves live. Altogether. I myself don’t really differentiate between whether you are here “legally” or “illegally”, but apparently you are supposed to (see more below on that). It took me years and years to finally have some real kind of permanent “status” here, and I’m happy I do now. I’ve heard “legal” immigrant’s state how disgusting it is that other people can just “waltz” in here while they had to wait years doing it the “right” way… I’ve never felt that way. You do what you need to. It’s not like anyone really wants to be “illegal” you know…
Oh yes! Let me just leave my country of origin because I’m bored here, hop over the border and steal someone’s job. And HA! I don’t have to pay taxes and I can use all of the awesome welfare services offered to me! Win! Yeah, no, it’s not like that. Actually, most undocumented workers are on a payroll and pay taxes. They just don’t claim any refunds that may be due to them. There is no state in all 50 states that will provide any kind of health insurance, food stamps or WIC checks to anyone who cannot prove they have legal status in this country (apart from if you are pregnant when you may be eligible for a restricted type of health insurance for 10 months, as long as you earn less than the threshold). And if so many immigrants were taking US citizens jobs then why are so many people hiring them? Seeing as most places have all of their employees on payroll so it’s not like they can pay them less than minimum wage. Let’s just be honest about it: many undocumented immigrants are working jobs that no one else wants to work. Doing back breaking work in the fields for 12 hours a day under the blazing sun, working for hours prepping and making food in the restaurants that we all want to eat in, cleaning up your vomit and broken bottles when you go out bar hopping with your friends, scrubbing hotel rooms down day in day out, etc etc, you know the drill. I’m not trying to be annoying here, I’m just telling the truth. No one is taking anyone else’s job, not if we are looking at it from an immigrant vs. US citizen standpoint anyway. We are all just trying to SURVIVE and create a BETTER LIFE for ourselves and our families.
Isn’t that why the first non-native Americans came here in the first place?
I’ve lived here long enough to have been through two US presidential elections (2008 and 2012, I moved here in 2005), so this year will be my third. As a green card holder, an immigrant, I don’t have the right to vote, but I still follow the entire procedure with somewhat bated breath and anticipation. I was working the night that Obama was re-elected in 2012, the entire bar was full of friends and friends of friends holding our breath until the results were announced, cheers and tears going up all over the city. While the outcome during that election wasn’t too bleak, I found the opposition scary based on their use of women’s reproductive rights as a huge part of their campaign (this happens to be an ongoing theme in this country that deserves another article in its own right). However, this year has been particularly strange and even ominous. These elections are different in so much as there is now only one Republican candidate still running, and he not only appears to be a little unhinged, but he has managed to create an enormous following for himself.
Last year we were all laughing at the idea that Donald Trump was going to run in the presidential race. This year it’s not only a reality, he’s also the ONLY ONE LEFT ON THE RIGHT. This is the man who has called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, the one who talks about his daughter as if she were his wife, who states there is no such thing as climate change. Oh and who wants to set up some kind of tracking system for all Muslims living in the US. At the same time he wants to schedule mass deportations of “illegal immigrants”. This man could potentially be the next US president. What scares me more than him is the fact that he has managed to amass so many supporters who actually believe in him and everything he spews. You can blame some of it on ignorance, but is it that possible that there are SO MANY ignorant people in this country?! Do people not actually look outside of their own homes and see that this country is full of people of different heritages?! Do they really believe the things that he says? Why does he think that the US isn’t great anymore? Does he not know that “America” stands for many more countries than the US? And that Mexico happens to be part of “America”? I really, really doubt that this individual is going to do anything more than create an even more obvious base of hatred and self-doubt in this country while ruining what small and uneven foreign alliances that exist. Why are people so scared of “the other”? “The other” doesn’t exist. Indoctrination doesn’t just exist “over there”. It exists everywhere. It’s up to the individual to stop being scared and to start learning about WHY and HOW.
Earlier I mentioned an interesting point that I have seen come up all over the place… “Legal” immigrants showing their difference from “illegal” immigrants, kind of like a badge of honour. Oh I spent X amount of years waiting to live here and you just ran over the border without any worries. Wait, WHAT? Yes, it took me many, many years to become a legal resident but at least I was able to travel and see my family and friends and homeland (apart from the time that I actually didn’t have any legal right to live here, during which I still paid taxes by the way). I didn’t spend hours, days even, trawling through desert, hiding in the sun, rushing over the border to be caught and sent back again. I didn’t hide in the back of a truck in the boiling heat, not seeing daylight for days until I reached a destination unknown, a place that was huge and busy and didn’t speak my language, left to find work and a home and a new life. I don’t have to worry about never seeing my mother again, only hearing her voice every few weeks on the phone, worrying about how she is getting older and who is going to look after her. I don’t have to worry about having to make the decision between leaving my life behind and attending my father’s funeral or missing it and staying here. There is NO EASY WAY about being here without papers. Or anywhere really. So please, whether you have papers or not, you are still an immigrant. No one is “better” than another. It’s not some kind of elite status that one should be proud of. We all came here for a better life in some form or another.
So yes, I am an immigrant. My partner is an immigrant. We have two children who were born here which makes them US citizens by birth. We both want them to be proud of their country of origin, just like we are of ours, and love their heritage, just like we love the countries that we have lived in and live in. I love the US, and I’ve loved all the years that I have lived here. But I also love England and France, the two countries where I grew up. And I love Canada, the country that granted me citizenship because my father happened to be born there (even though he only spent a few months there and had an English mother and Welsh father). If push comes to shove, and Trump is elected president in November, we will consider finding another place to live, and being the proud immigrants that we are will become immigrants elsewhere. Or maybe our children will become immigrants in one of our countries of origin. Because yes, there are many US citizens who have emigrated abroad, effectively making them immigrants too. An immigrant is just someone who has left their country of origin to live in another… Where they actually come from doesn’t change anything. Remember that when you are eating at your local Mexican joint, drinking fresh orange juice, waiting for your child to go through life-saving open heart surgery, getting your weekly pedicure, taking your beloved dog to the vets, cruising through the newest social media fad and listening to your new favourite rock band play. You most likely interact with an immigrant every single day. And you most definitely interact with the descendant of an immigrant every day.
And just so you know, your average Christian is just as capable as committing an act of terrorism as your average Muslim. And your average Mexican is just as likely to be a rapist as your average white guy. Actually, I am pretty sure that we can say “less likely” to the latter seeing as campus rape is becoming quite the epidemic. Maybe that doesn’t ever happen at Trump University though?!
June 7th is the day that California votes in the primaries. Please remember that your vote counts.