Posted by: minnow | September 8, 2010

Immigration and Heritage

My grandfather (my father’s father) was five when he, his parents, and his sister came to America from Scotland.  I used to delight in that connection to the “old country”.  I felt part of the bigger world in a way I do not think I would have felt had I come from generations and generations of “Americans”.  The thought that my grandfather was not a “natural-born citizen” never struck me as odd or something to cause concern.  Perhaps even in today’s culture being an immigrant from Scotland would not be a big deal.  However, being an immigrant from South America or the Middle East or Southeast Asia may not feel as “okay”.

This semester I am taking a class entitled, The Politics of Latin America.  (Next semester I hope to take a similar course looking at Africa).  I must admit, for as old as I am I am sadly ignorant about other parts of the world.  Seemingly, our globe has gotten smaller as I have gotten older.  I did not used to think about other countries or other people groups as much as I do now.  Being “ignorant” of the rest of the world did not seem like the faux pas it seems to me now.  Increasingly my awareness of the impact my behavior has on people halfway around the world grows.  With that greater awareness my sense of responsibility rises as well.  Simply by virtue of being born in America I have privileges and wealth most of the rest of the world does not.  What ought I do with such blessing?

When I found out the first syncroblog was going to be on immigration I thought to my self, “Great, like I have anything intelligent to say about that!”  Yet my response in and of itself revealed to me a truth–most Americans might have opinions about immigration but how many of us have any real information?  How many of us have experience first hand the sense of loss some immigrants might feel when life forces them to leave home–family, friends, culture, the familiar–without know if they will ever see those people or places again?  Who among us, the generational Americans who know how to speak English without an accent, has experienced the sting of moving somewhere we are not wanted simply because we “don’t talk right”?   When was the last time one of “us” thought it was “an opportunity” to clean someone’s toilet for minimum wage?  When abroad, how often do we fear for our safety when we are sent home? 

Recently, the daughter of a family friend married a fellow from Kenya.  Out of what would be a sign of respect in his country, he did not initially look Americans in the eye, especially those older than himself.  Had I not been informed of this behavior I could easily have mistaken his lack of eye contact as shame, guilt or deceit since that is often what averting one’s eyes means in my culture.  Understanding how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusions from such a simple difference in cultural expectations causes me to wonder what other situations I may have interpreted incorrectly over the years.

I am grateful to the syncroblogs, for the opportunity to learn more.  I appreciate the chance to hear from some who know first hand how it feels to be a foreigner, to be treated or thought of differently or misunderstood because of an accent, custom, appearance, or behavior.  I realize we have always had to face the problems that accompany immigration.  Yet when I was a little girl I believed our melting pot heritage was a source of pride.  My grandparents and their parents worked hard to provide for their families and contribute to their communities.  The baby born soon after they landed in the United States was the first American in my grandfather’s family.  These are the building blocks of my family and the heritage of hundreds of thousands like them. 

We are a wealthy nation, but not only by monetary measures.  We are rich in a heritage of color and culture and experience.  We have resources we have only begun to tap into because of the diversity we are able–if we are willing–to bring to the table.  Old or new, we all have a history of immigration, even those nomadic people groups we call the first arrived from somewhere.

Others you may want to read:

Kathy Escobar- It’s a Lot Easier to Be Against Immigration Reform When You Have Papers                   Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True
Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories
Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue
Ellen Haroutunian – Give Me Your Tired …
Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear
Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge
Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother
Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Right
Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog
Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Synchroblog Immigration Reform

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