This post may seem a little off-topic, but the way our world seems to be changing lately weighs heavy on me - especially as a mother. I wrote the following story in an email to legislators regarding Trump's travel ban and a local bill designed to strip our city's sanctuary status. The words and feelings felt too big to keep to myself, so I'm sharing them here. If you know your own family's American history I would love for you to share it with me too.
According to family legend, my mother's grandfather made his way into this country through the forests of Maine after his ship from Sweden landed in Canada. My own grandfather's generation was the first of the family to be born in the United States, and from them a sprawling clan of descendants followed. My father's grandfather was also a child of immigrants - Scottish highlanders to be exact. He lived on a small family farm in Alabama before striking out on his own and making his way to New York to become a restaurateur.
Those restaurants were staffed by both American citizens and a vibrant mix of immigrants from all over the world, including a head chef from China. Throughout my own restaurant career I worked with and befriended countless people who might be described as migrants or illegal aliens. Some of my oldest friends, most brilliant teachers, and respected co-workers fall under that category.
My husband worked as a landscaper and carpenter throughout our twenties, and has many friends and co-workers of his own that he remembers with affection and respect. I feel grateful to have had the experience of working side by side with people from very different backgrounds than my own. Their stories were all very different, but each one left me in awe of their bravery. Can you imagine leaving the only world you have ever known in search of something better?
In 2009 my husband and I sold everything we owned and moved to Beijing, China to give him a shot at pursuing his musical career. When that didn't work out, and his band-mates left the country, we tried to make the best of things and forge a new life overseas. We were pretty much broke and we didn't speak the language. We lived in an illegal dwelling. I worked under the table. There was even a point when we had to use bribes to stay safe.
While our struggles pale in comparison to someone who has migrated from necessity (fleeing poverty or violence, for instance) I feel like that experience gave me a unique point of view. When I encounter someone who can not speak English, I remember how frustrating it was to live in a place where no one seemed to understand me - even when I spoke their language. When I hear about people living or working illegally I remember doing what I HAD to do to keep going in a challenging time.
I look at my child and I hope that I would have the courage to flee my home if he were in danger.
America was, and still is, a nation of travelers, refugees, and immigrants. Our lives are all touched by people who fit these descriptions, and so many of us are only separated from our immigrant history by a handful of generations. I believe that we turn our backs on these people at the cost of our soul.
In a land of abundance we are closing our doors. It's sad. It's wrong, and it's most definitely un-American.