Sunday, February 5, 2017

Land of Immigrants

Bits of songs and broken drums
Are all he could recall
So he spoke to me
In a bastard tongue
Carried on the silence of the guns

"It's been a long long time
since they first came
And marched through our village
They taught us to forget our past
And live the future in their image"

They said
'You should learn to speak a little bit of English
Maybe practise birth control
Keep away from controversial politics
So to save my third world soul

They said
'You should learn to speak a little bit of English
Don't be scared of a suit and tie.
Learn to walk in the dreams of the foreigner
-- I am a Third World Child

Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s Third World Child

Under low swirling gray clouds and rocked by the choppy North Atlantic Ocean, John Winthrop preached one of the most resonant sermons in American history from the deck of the frigate Arabella.  In A Model of Christian Charity, Winthrop challenged his auditors to become a "Citty on a hill', a beacon of Christianity to inspire the world.  The puritan errand into the wilderness should have provoked tens of thousands to follow the saints and create a New Jerusalem in the New World.  Unfortunately, the puritan dream ran aground on Gallows Hill in Salem in 1692.  Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands followed in their wake; not to seek a New Jerusalem but to seek freedom and economic opportunity.
When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, over 100,000 Huguenots left France for the New York colony.  Seventy-five percent of the immigrants in the 17th Century were indentured servants from England, but after mid-century their numbers dwarfed in comparison to the inundation of Blacks from Africa, of whom over 900,000 were brutally transported to America between 1619 and 1808.  Irish immigration continued to rise steadily from the 1790's through the Civil War to peak in the 1840's during the Irish potato blight.  Chinese immigrants built the Central Pacific east from Sacramento in the post-bellum period, but Chinese immigration was cut off for a time by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1894. 
From 1885 to 1910, 27 million people immigrated to the United States through the portal of Ellis Island.  These future Americans would challenge the capacity of the eastern cities and the patience of white Anglo-Saxon protestant culture, but America would respond to the challenge and emerge a better and more diverse culture.  Today, America is being tested again by a massive influx of immigrants from the south and the fearful specter of possibly dangerous visitors from the Muslim world, the Muslim fundamentalists (it should be noted that not all Arabs and Persians are Muslims), not only alien, but home grown too.  Should the U.S. close its borders and retreat into isolationism or recognize the inevitability of living in a globalized world?
America is a land built of immigrants, and American citizens are a modern breed of countless races and cultures.  An interview with Professor Newton Crawford from Columbia University in Rolla, Missouri revealed his ancestors hailed from Ireland and Scotland, though Crawfords have owned hundred of acres in south central Missouri for over a hundred years.  The writer of this document, for another example, traced her ancestry to five different cultures:  Bohemia, Germany, England, Scotland and Cherokee Native American.
Consider the current flux of immigration in America.  Why the yearning to live in the United States?  What do they want?  Should immigrants be expected to assimilate, such as learning English, as did those before them?  What policies should the U.S. government create, if any, regarding illegal aliens currently living within the border?  For how long should the U.S. remain a nation of immigrants?  Should the U.S. continue to open its arms to those seeking the same freedoms its fore fathers sought?  Or, is it simply that post 9/11 Americans are finding themselves more racist than ever before?
There are no clear cut answers to this complex issue.  This nation, a democracy that requires a singular respect of law, also has a Constitution that currently grants rights to all people living in the United StatesIs this to be followed to the letter or should caveats be initiated to protect the American Dream?
As we move towards the 2008 elections, this issue drives both political parties, and could, in fact, make or break the next president of the United States of America.  Part of searching for solutions is listening to the voices of the individuals most affected, the immigrants.  Students in the ESL program at Donnelly College in Kansas welcomed the opportunity to offer their insight and share their dreams in an unchained America.
In different words and accents, their voices echo as one:  We are the people from around the world who have traveled to a land of freedom for our share of happiness and a home for the brave.  We want to be accepted.  We want to know you.  We want to learn from you as you learn from us.  We want to keep our traditions and language while learning yours.  We have a multitude of voices.  Together, we have one voice that asks for a chance, the same chance you have.

My name is Nayere, and I’m thirty-five years old.  I am from Tehran, Iran, and I speak three languages, Persian, Turkish and English.  I want to tell you about my life.  I went to Aushera School and graduated from high school at eighteen.  My family lives in Iran, and I haven’t seen them since 2003.  This is my life.
My country had a problem with my religion.  There were no job opportunities, no socializing, no freedom of speech and no police protection because of my religion.   When I was young, my neighbor’s children beat me up.  This is my life.
I became a refugee, so the government paid for my ticket, and I rode the bus to Turkey where I lived for a short time.  They said I could go to the US, but I didn’t want to.  Then, they said I could go to New Zealand, and I didn’t want to.  I wanted to go to Australia where some of my friends lived.  I told them I had money to pay for a ticket to Australia.  Then, they said I had to leave Turkey and fly to the United States.  I miss my family and friends in my country.  I miss Persian foods, clothing, holiday parties and customs.  This is my life. 
My favorite holiday in my country is New Years.  Everybody has a two week holiday.  People clean house and change things.  They buy new clothes, for instance.  Old and young visit each other and give gifts.  They celebrate the New Year together.  My favorite tradition from Iran is Nineteen days.  Before New Years, we put our money together to help families without their fathers, poor families and people who are sick.
In the US, I am working at local hospital.  I serve the patients their meals.  This is my life.  The hardest challenge for me is to learn English better.  I like the U.S. because everybody has freedom of speech and religion.  Also, we have opportunities to work and socialize with anyone we want to!
I am taking English classes because I need to read my mail and pay my bills.  Also, I want to talk to people and find a better job.  I like my classmates and working together.  I enjoy making new friends.
The most difficult thing in my life is living alone, being alone in a foreign country.  This is my life.  The most important thing about me is that I am persistent and have a good sense of humor.  My dream is to live in Jerusalem some day.  I am thankful for my job and the opportunity to learn English.    This is my life.
My name is G. I. and I’m from Somalia in Africa.  I’m twenty-five years old and have three children.  I have four brothers and a husband who live in Kansas City with me. 
When I was a child, there was a drought that blew out everything.  Most of our animals died, and there was no food or water.  Later, I had to leave Somalia because of the war.  When the civilian war broke out, I walked five hundred kilometers in seven days on foot where my life was in danger from the soldiers as well as wild animals.  I fled to Kenya where I became a refugee.  UNHCR gave me resettlement to the USA.  I traveled from the Dagahaley refugee camp to GOAL in Nairobi where I waited for my flight for one month before flying to the USA
Here, I like the education, health, security and technology.  I don’t have a job now because I hurt my back.  My goals are to be a sufficient, educated person and to help my relatives and country become educated.  I am grateful for the government of Kenya who gave me hospitality, UNHCR who gave me food, shelter and water, IAM who took me to the USA and Catholic Charities who warmly welcomed me when I first arrived.
My name is Brahim, and I am from Fes, Morocco.  I’m twenty-four years old and speak Arabic, French and a little English.  I have nine brothers and sisters, and my father taught while my mom stayed home.  In my country, I left my family to go to a small city to continue high school.  Then, I graduated from Fes University when I was twenty. 
In June 2005, I left my country and traveled to the U.S. to build a better life by working and finishing my education.  I flew from the Casablanca Airport to JFK Airport.  I took a taxi to another airport, but the cab driver took a long way around and charged me two hundred dollars.  I missed my plane and spent the night at the airport until I could take another plane.
Now I am living in the U.S. happy and comfortable, but I still miss my country.  I miss Moroccan food, my neighborhood, my friends, and I miss too much my mother and father and all my family.  Life is nice here, though.  I see all new things in this land of opportunity and freedom.  No one can touch my opinion, direction, religion or race.
I work at a local hotel.  My job is room service and banquet server.  I get orders for people who call by phone, and I deliver what they need.  I respect every person and think anyone can be better with patience and ambition.  I am taking English classes because I want to speak and listen to American people very well, get a good job and finish my education.  I like my classmates. Every person has a private dream.  Mine is to be an excellent English speaker and to become rich so I can get what I want and help others.  I am grateful I can learn.
My name is Comfort, and I am a fifty year old woman from Liberia.  I have four sisters and three brothers and five children.  I left my country due to war.  First of all, I fled to a neighbor country, but there was war in that country too.  Then, I flew in a plane to the US.  Before we left Africa, the plane reached an area where there were mountains that stopped the plane from going.  Everyone was afraid.  Finally, we took off again and made it to the US.  I miss my children, brothers and sisters who are still in my country. 
I used to work at a local factory.  Any job God blesses me to find, I’ll do it.  What I like most about the U.S. is that they love the elderly and the children.  The most important thing about me is that I learn with understanding and love to be with kids.  My dream in life is that I learn English to find a better job and help my family and other people.  I am grateful because God saved us during the war, and now we are in America by the grace of the Almighty God.
My name is Miguel, and I’m from Guatemala and am twenty-six years old.  I did not graduate from high school.  I left Guatemala because I wanted to see what life was like in the USA and because everybody talked about the USA and how good it is for living and making good money.  I came here because I wanted to buy an American car, make money and live the American dream.  I have not done that yet. 
It took me three weeks to get to Kansas.  At the Mexican/USA border it was difficult.  I tried two times and finally crossed the third time by walking for almost three days.  When I reached Houston, Texas, I took a bus the rest of the way.  My family still lives in Guatemala, and I call them every week.
My job in the USA is attending a warehouse as a professional operator of a forklift.  I also work in a local restaurant as a prep cook.  No matter how hard I have to work or how much I have to pay, I like that I can earn money and buy things here. My dream is to become legal in the USA, visit my family in Guatemala, and own my own delivery business.

My name is Abdullahi, and I am from Garasay, a small village in Somalia.  I am twenty-five years old and speak three languages, May-Maay, my mother tongue, Somali and English.  I didn’t attend school in my country because there were no schools in my village, and I left my country when I was eight years old.  I left my country because of the endless civil war and famine.  I lived in a refugee camp in Kenya, and I graduated high school at the age of eighteen there.  My mother and my little sister came to the USA with me, but the rest of my family, including my father, died.  The most important thing about me is that I was not killed in the civil war.
It was hard to become a refugee.  Make sure, once your name is refugee, you are not free.  I mean you are under somebody else.  Therefore, you are kept as an animal.  Immigration asks you questions, which makes you nervous.  First, they ask the people easy questions and you tell all your privacy.  These interviews make many people who were planning for a new life fail. Many people kill themselves or run mad when they fail the interview.  Immigration demanded I forget my country, and now I am missing my country.  I cannot see my beautiful farm.  Where is the river I fished in?  Where can I swim?  Many people have forgotten or changed their beautiful culture.  For example, I thought that we would keep our own culture, but the first week in the United States my daughter called the police and I was given a warning.  Now, I cannot discipline my child.  I cannot demand for her to follow my religion or my culture.  
In the United States, I work as a clerk, filling envelopes and sorting mail.  My goal is to finish learning English, earn a PHD and go back to my country to save the people suffering over there. 
My name is Luz, and I am from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  I graduated with an associate degree in my country when I was nineteen.  Now, I’m twenty-three.  I have a wonderful family who supports each other.
I left Mexico in 2003, with my family who had a visa.  We came by bus, but it was a very interesting trip since none of us could speak English.  Everyone told us that someone would speak Spanish, but we didn’t find anyone we could understand.  It took us thirty-six hours to get to Kansas City.  Now, my father and I are here in the U.S. while the rest of my family is back in Mexico.  I am a preschool teacher and teach three to four year old children.  I love teaching and helping children learn.
The most challenging thing since I came to the U.S. is to learn to look very careful for friends and boyfriends.  Most of the time I date someone, the first thing he wants is sex.  He thinks because I went out with him he has a right to do it.  It’s been hard to find someone who wants to be with me and not just wants sex.  When I don’t give in, he talks about me and start rumors.  The boys all tell me that America is different and it’s better if I do it.  When they see that I’m serious, they try to ruin my life.  They lie and tell my friends untrue stories, follow me, call me and even text inappropriate messages.  To be a virgin is challenging for me in the U. S.
The hardest thing in my life is to believe in myself, to believe that I am smart, beautiful, friendly, mature and strong.  The hardest thing is to believe that I’m not big, to believe that I’m pretty.  It’s hard because of the people telling me that I’m fat and that nobody will look at me, want to go out with me. 
What I miss the most from my country is my family, especially my niece and nephew.  I won’t see them growing up.  I won’t see their eyes and face and listen to their voices as they grow older.  They are my world.  My everything.  I can’t imagine how fast life is going and all the good times I am missing with them.  I miss my family so much that at times I think about hopping the next flight to Guadalajara.  When I hang up the phone after talking to them, my heart hurts.  Nothing is more important than my family.  I’d die for them if necessary.
I love the houses in America.  The houses look just like the ones in the children’s books my mom used to read me.  All my life I dreamed of seeing the houses and living inside them.  They look like the magic stories for kids.
I’m taking English classes because it is important to learn other languages.  It’s critical for my career and personal experience and opportunities.  My English class is very good, and I’m learning new things every day.  I firm my skills and practice them.  I enjoy my classmates, and we try to help each other.  We respect each other’s opinion.
My goal is to get a Master’s degree and be a business woman.  I always dreamed about owning and running my own business.  I’m grateful to have the family God gave me.  I am blessed because I have a very loving, understanding, supporting family.  We always worry about and help each other.  I will do whatever it takes to make them happy.
My name is Maday, and I am from Jilip, Somalia.  I am twenty-one years old and speak five languages, Arabic, Kiswahili, two dialects of Somali and English.  I was born in a very big family.  I am married and have a child.
I left my country because of civil war and famine caused by the war which caused the whole country to be devastated.  When the civil war began in my country, my family and I evacuated to Kenya, a neighboring country where we stayed for several years at a refugee camp.  We applied for asylum under the UN and were approved to come to the U.S.  We boarded a big plane from the capital of Kenya to London where we changed planes to New York and then to Kansas City.
My job is to fill and test the printer cartridge at a warehouse.  The most challenging thing for me in the U.S. is working hard with constant supervision.  In my country people are used to having their own farms and businesses.  People in my country work on their farms whenever they want or have a relative or friend work on their behalf if they are tired and need to rest or are ill.   I miss many things from my country:  friends, relatives, land and beautiful farms with coconut trees, mangoes, lemons, beans and rice.  My favorite tradition from my country is the circumcision ceremony where many people come and tease the person who is going to be circumcised if he/she cries.
I am a young, hardworking man who has had a lot of work experience since I was ten years old.  I have tailor, manufacturing and teaching skills.  I struggle to study well and make changes in the world’s situation.  I am taking English classes to attain my ambitions of becoming a great journalist and working as a news correspondent.  My teachers have great skills and have previously taught in many different countries around the world, so they are special teachers for me.  My classmates are important.  We help each other, love each other, and each of us is from a different country.  We share experiences and talk to each other about our cultures and beliefs.
My dreams are to become more efficient and have my own business instead of working for someone else at an entry-level job.  I am very grateful to have opportunities to help other people.  I am someone who likes to help people who are in need. I help people by volunteering, and I am currently helping a community called Somali Bantu community of Kansas. This community consists of almost 93 families, four of which are literate and can read, write, and speak English language.  However, the other 89 families are illiterate and can't read or speak the English language at all, and they really need help to live in the United States.  I always help them voluntarily when I have time for them.  I help them with interpretation, transportation, and homework.
I help adults in the Somali Bantu community voluntarily with language interpretation when they go to the health department to address their health issues, to the doctors, to immigration departments to apply for permanent residents, and also to schools to schools to talk to their children's teachers.  Transportation is a major problem among the Somali community in Kansas.  When I have a free time, I help the Somalis who need help with transportation.  I help transport them to their work places, health departments, and shopping centers needed.  Since most of them are illiterate, it is hard for them to get a driver’s license to drive or own a car, so that is why I commit myself to helping them.
Although I help adults in the Somali community, they also openly ask me to help their children after school with homework because the children are helpless, and since their parents don't understand or speak English, I help them. English is not their first language.  Helping people is what I do with most of my free time.  I am proud of what I do for my community.
My name is Laura, and I’m from Bogota, Colombia in South America.  I’m seventeen years old and have lived with my cousin in Kansas City since fifteen; I learned a lot from her, her two kids and from Americans.  My mom, godparents and the rest of my family are back in Colombia, and I miss them so much.  My mom is the most important person in my life and my role model, though I haven’t seen her in two years. 
I left my country because my mom wanted me to come and learn English to have a better life and future.  Her dad didn’t let her go when she had the opportunity, and she didn’t want me to miss out like she did, even though it meant that she would miss me so much. 
The most interesting story about my life is my birth.  My mom has told me the story many times, and it’s so meaningful to me because I consider it a miracle.  I was a premature child because I was born at seven months and two weeks.  It was a risky birth because while my mom was in surgery, her heart pressure shot up too high.  I was so little and very vulnerable that I could have died during the trip from one room to the next.  I was incubated for three months and in grave condition because I couldn’t breathe by myself and the doctors didn’t have any hope for me to live.  My mom was hospitalized as well and sad and depressed about me.  One day the doctor told my mom I wasn’t breathing at all, and it was not helpful to keep me connected to the machines.  The doctor asked her to sign an order to disconnect me.  She cried and cried but gave them the signature, though she was devastated and suffering so much.  Suddenly, the doctor told her that a really strange and unusual thing happened.  That morning I breathed by myself for the first time.  My mom was so happy and proud and considered me a gift from God.  If she sees me struggling with something, she says, “Laura, remember what a big warrior you are!  You’ve been battling since you were in my belly.  This is nothing compared with what you had to pass through.  You’re my gift and treasure, so be strong!”
I am taking English classes to improve my skills.  I love the way my classmates work hard and dedicate time and mind to learning English.  One of my favorite quotes is from Greece:  “Wisdom is having the knowledge of knowing you know nothing.”
My name is Haile, and I’m from Eritrea and twenty-six years old.  In my country, every male has to go for military training at eighteen for national service.  I finished my service, but a war started in Eritrea so the government didn’t allow me to go back to my family.  I went to Saudi Arabia for awhile until I had a chance to come to the U.S. 
I miss my family and friends.  I miss everything I did in my country.  I miss my culture and the streets I walked on.  In the United States, I used to bus tables, but now I am a host and cashier at a local restaurant.  My goal is to finish ESL classes and get a high school diploma.
My name is Ruslan, and I am from the Republic of Uzbekistan.  I am twenty-five years old and speak four languages, Uzbek, Russian, Turkish and English.  I graduated from school in my country when I was seventeen years old.  I traveled here to study and make good money.  I miss everything in my country:  my parents, brothers, sisters, friends, food, culture, life…  I don’t have a job here and am a student. 
My name is Lourdes, and I’m from Santa Barbara, Honduras and am twenty-six years old.  I attended college until I was twenty.  I have a big family, though my dad died three years ago.  My mom lives alone in Honduras, and the rest of us live in Miami, California or Kansas City.  The hardest thing about my childhood was when I didn’t eat because my mother didn’t have enough money to buy food.
I came to the U.S. because my husband was here and the income I made in Honduras wasn’t enough to live on.  I supported my son, went to college and wanted to buy a house.  Finally, I was so disappointed that I decided to leave my country for something new.  I started to travel with my son by bus from Honduras to Mexico.   Sometimes I walked, took a boat, rode in trucks or swam.  I did whatever it took to get to America.  The most challenging thing here is that I don’t have social security, a driver’s license or family insurance.  The weather is hard for me too.  I miss the weather, food, friends and studies in Honduras, but I like the security in America.  I work as a kitchen manager at Chipotle’s, and my responsibilities include cooking, organizing food on the shelves and supporting the others.
First of all, my name is Omar, and I’m twenty-two years old.  I was born in southern Somalia, and my nationality is Somali Bantu.  My family had gardens, and their job was working on a commercial agricultural plantation.  The opportunities to garden or farm provide benefits that go far beyond improving their tuition and earning extra income through the sale of surplus food.  I speak May-Maay (my first language), Kiswahili, Arabic, Somali and a little English.  In Somalia, we have a lot of tribes.  I can’t describe them, but my tribe is called Bantu, people trying to get food (hunters and gatherers called bushman) and living in the forests.  My tribe lived in a fertile region where the population grew with the aid of the very productive crops like banana, corn and grains.
In 1991, I was six years old and civil war broke out in our area.  In fact, our life became unbearable, and we ran out of the country to seek protection as refugees.  The fighting had been going on for at least one year, and a lot of people died.  Many of our people were killed while they were walking.  The bandits just started shooting, raping women and attacking.  Bantu tribes were the biggest victims of the civil war that broke out that year.  That is why we decided to move to another country.
After we arrived in Kenya, the UNHCR gave us resettlement to reside in a small town which they called Hagadera Refugee Camp, an area like forest.  Three to four families had to share items like dishes, bowls, rice, oil and sugar.  Many started moving into town, and they gave food every fifteen days, so we had to make it last.
After two years, the town was full of people, and I made friends, worked, played soccer and studied both at school and at Madrasa, the school of my religion.  I went to school five days a week.  I woke up at five and showered before going to Madrasa.  Afterwards, I ate breakfast, showered again and went to school.  When I returned home at four, I had to shower again before going to a private school to study grammar.  I was really busy but enjoyed it.
I still remember what happened in my country because Somalia is a place of great suffering with famine, war and crime.  Anyone looking for a simple-minded good-guy/bad-guy viewpoint should stop reading right now because this story, like all stories, is more complicated than that.
As I was studying, the USA gave resettlement to 13,000 Somali Bantu to settle in fifty American cities, so they collected us from the refugee camps to Kakuma, Kenya, a different town where we stayed awhile.  They fixed our family names and told us our flight was ready.  We walked to the market for shopping to prepare ourselves.  The next day, we came to an office building.  My family with ten other families listened as they called our names.  We boarded the bus to downtown so we could take the plane, heading for the land of the free.
My name is Yazmin, and I am from Veracruz, Mexico.  I’m twenty-nine years old and graduated from high school at eighteen.  I wanted to go on adventures, and a friend told me that America is a place where you can make money to travel.  I crossed the border from Mexico to the USA by paying a “pollero” eight hundred dollars to show me how to cross. 
My first challenge here was transportation to work at a local restaurant because I didn’t have a car and didn’t even know how to drive.  I was lucky because I was young and my friends and boyfriends taught me how to drive.  After that, language is the biggest challenge.  I miss my family, especially my grandma, and the fresh food and flavors (like Tamales de Elote and Zapotes).  I like how clean the city is and how friendly the people are in Kansas City
The hardest thing growing up was having an alcoholic father who beat my mom when he was drunk.  I had to grow up too fast to help protect my mom from my dad.  I left my home at age thirteen.
I’m very friendly, talk a lot but listen too.  I have lots of stories to tell.  I love God, and I love people too.  My dream is to learn English very well and have a good career.  I want to always be a good example to my daughters.  I want to have a house of my own.  Finally, I want to fix my legal situation because I really want to be legal in this country.

Like the citizens who stand beside them for employment, to worship, to achieve quality of life, they hope and dream for a better life in a land populated with people from all over the world who have merged into Americans. Having left homes, loved ones and traditions, they search for a chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lawmakers and voters can decide the fate of immigrants by weighing what immigration has done for the country, using the short, rich history of the United States to guide them toward parameters that benefit the new immigrants as well as the rest of the American population, immigrants all of them.  As George Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  
Should the U.S. continue current immigration policies created in 1965 or go in a new direction?  Where will that lead us?  Should we choose alienation and fear?  Who will we be?  What will we lose?  
The solutions to the burning issues of modern immigration will usher in a stronger, unified America or alter the land of the free forever. 
*******Special thanks to the students of Donnelly College in Kansas for sharing their stories.
********Professor Newton Crawford helped with the information from the opening.
*******Originally published in Present Magazine in Kansas City, Missouri in Fall 2008.

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