Today walking around the streets of Brooklyn I was truly inspired by all the businesses that were closed. It is very important that you stand for what you believe in and while I try to keep politics out of American Appetite, this is one topic that I believe should be paramount to everyone. We were all immigrants at one time after all, well unless you are Native American, in that case you were here and then slaughtered by immigrants, so maybe you are the only people who have a case for an immigrant ban.
Growing up I had plenty of preconceived notions of immigrants. I am not proud that I had them, but it’s the truth. All I knew of people from other countries were the few Guatemalan students in my high school who kept in their own small social groups. They didn’t speak English well and were often bullied when mixed in classes with the rest of the student body. I can think of one time in particular when a gym teacher screamed at a student for not sitting down when it was clear he didn’t understand what he meant. He berated him incessantly, face red, veins throbbing, until he eventually grabbed him by the collar and threw him out the door. Naive me thought that it had something to do with the student rebelling or just not being very bright. Never did it occur to me that he was in a completely different country than he was 2 years ago, being yelled at by someone who treats him like crap, in a language he is just starting to learn. Sadly that is how I continued to think until a fortuitous 4 AM drunken subway ride changed that all.
I was lucky enough to gain access to a world that I never had known or experienced before. I entered into a relationship with someone who was not from the United States of America, an immigrant. But she wasn’t stupid, she was incredibly smart, with a masters degree. She spoke two languages so fluently you wouldn’t know that she spent her first 20 years of life living in another country, well if it weren’t for the accent that sparked the whole relationship. She was considerate, caring, thoughtful, choosing a career where you selflessly help other people with their issues. She was funny, joyous, and had a magnetic personality that just drew everyone to her. But she wasn’t alone. She came with a network of other bight, funny, considerate immigrants. Global friends who had formed a community of outsiders, ranging from practically every continent. They were kind enough to let me into their world and I am honored to have experienced it, because that is where my global outlook changed. I had never known anyone like me, just Turkish, or Chinese, or Venezuelan, but now I did. We spent countless afternoons and nights talking, and laughing, and sharing 4th of July BBQ’s, because after all there is nothing more American than that. For so long had I viewed people from other countries as being “the other”. They weren’t me, they were the other. They were strange, completely different with nothing in common, but boy was I wrong. It was these experiences that made me understand that even though we come from various backgrounds we are truly one in the same down deep. But it didn’t stop with just my own self realization or destruction of wrong view points I had, it extended further.
My family is not political in the slightest. Family gatherings are more likely to get more heated regarding what type of stuffing we chose to go with or whether or not a certain Red Sox player was a bum, not a spirited debate on pending elections or global policy. It was that lack of discussion that lead me for about 20 years not realize that one of the sweetest most kindest people in my life, my great uncle, was actually a full fledged conservative republican. Now being raised in Massachusetts, being a republican can often be as taboo as leaving your family for your 26 year old secretary. With that in mind it was so hard to believe that one of the genuinely kind and thoughtful people in my life could be supportive of what I thought to be the evils of politics. While certain aspects of the republican platform made sense for him to be supportive of, he lived through the great depression and was fairly frugal in all aspects of his life, hence the fiscal conservatism were par for the course. But as such a warm and welcoming man, how he could he agree with any of the social views of the party was baffling to me. What I would come to learn was that he, much like people in both parties, just drink the cool-aid and go completely in lock step with the status quo often times out of ignorance.
Two Thanksgivings ago it all came to a head. I had brought home my immigrant girl friend, and her amazing sister. My family had already met them multiple times and were completely in love with both of them, including my great uncle. After a lull after dinner but before desert the table partially cleared leaving only my great uncle, grand parents, and myself. My grandfather, always the provocateur, made a comment about Trump (this was in 2015 so it was just kicking off primary season). Around this time is when Trump really started in on his rhetoric regarding “The Wall” and his views on Mexican’s and immigration. My great uncle began to defend Trumps view point, not aggressively, but enough to know he supported it. Trying to avoid any tense I debate, I took the route of just asking leading questions to better understand his viewpoint. “Why would keeping all these people out of the country be a good thing? ” “Well because you have all these rapists and thieves coming over the border“. “But aren’t there American rapists and thieves that live here as well?” “Yes but it is different with immigrants, they think differently, they are different people.” “My girl friend is an immigrant, so is her sister, are they different?” “Well……no..but….” “See what people don’t realize is that amazing people like them exist every where it is just that you have never known anyone from another culture or country before. Don’t you think that they should be here?” “Yes, of course”. The conversation trailed off by then but I could see that my point had been made. He didn’t have a face to immigration and now he did. He now knew people who would be on the other side of keeping foreigners out of the United States, people he thought were fine, upstanding individuals. That is where progress was made, maybe not for his whole political stance, but on one topic, that for me is a very personal issue.
What I urge everyone to do, beyond calling your local representative or protesting on the street, is make a friend with someone from outside the United States. Try to get a little perspective on their life and identify that they them self are truly an incredible and resourceful person who this country would be stupid to turn away. If you already have that friend, introduce them around to someone who might not have that perspective in their life. Concepts like the immigration ban are a lot easier for people to swallow if they are nameless and faceless. Put a name to this atrocity, put a face on it. Make people battle with the fact that they are keeping out that amazing person that they know. Personalize the issue for them, that is the way we can truly get people to care and make a difference.