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They are the many crossing oceans, mountains, and deserts in search for sanctuary. Those who run with bullets aimed at their backs, and tribulation weighing their feet. There is no time for fear or hesitation, only the fight for survival in a world that has left their countries stained with blood. They are the people we see on the news, and read about in our magazines. The families destroyed in the name of capital and war. We hear about their hunger, and we are thankful we were born into a life void of so much misfortune. These people that we see as “other” are only an extension of ourselves. They are mothers, fathers, and children, and when we look into their eyes we see our own reflection.
Each year millions of refugees seek asylum all around the world. They have made the gut-wrenching decision to leave behind the only life they knew, to find homes in foreign countries. For many of them, immigrating is not a want, but of the utmost necessity. It is the true difference between watching their wives being raped, or their children being murdered.
Refugees often face extreme hardships while immigrating. Those who apply for green cards are often met with difficulty. There is a common misconception that obtaining legal papers is a fast progress. That however is the furthest from the truth. People often spend years on waiting lists. Legal immigration is not ideal for people seeking to escape persecution, famine, and disease.
Those who make the brave choice to immigrate illegally face a number of adversities along the way. Stories of refugees being stranded in boats off the ocean, locked in shipping containments, or forgotten in loading trucks are told too often. Their horrors on the road to freedom are just as disturbing as the lives the left behind.
Refugees, who are lucky to make it to their new home, also run the risk of being treated poorly because of their nationalities.
Anti-immigrant sentiment gives rise to hate crimes, and inherently once again places these people in danger. Fear is the driving force for intolerance, and in order to reduce hatred we must understand where that fear derives. Perhaps a lack of familiarity is what produces hatred for the unfamiliar. The best way to introduce sympathy is to learn. It is important immigrants and refugees are able to tell their stories. Maybe their voices will silence the sounds of bigotry.
AHMYL: September 1999 is when I immigrated to America. I moved for security, education, and safety. Everything was hard getting to America. We were refugees in another country, so it was hard to go there and say “hey, I am from this other country so I have to come here now, and get a visa. So I had to get a passport from the country I was in, and get a visa by that one and come here [America], and say I wasn’t from that other country. Basically I committed perjury to come to America. So, true story but funny. First semester at TCC, someone approached me. “I heard you were from Africa, how did you get here?” I told them I had to get a visa card. “They said, oh you got a visa card, that you could just swipe?” I was blessed because we had family friends who were frequent flyers and came to the US, and my grandma came to visit a couple of times, and made the decision to have me come live with her because it was just better. [There were]Better opportunities, less opportunity for me to be sexually assaulted or exploited in different ways you can’t imagine. My biggest struggle was culture shock. Imagine you just got abducted and they put a bag over your head, and you are smelling the bag because that bag is from wherever you are from, and they just drop you somewhere and take that bag off and that smell is gone, and you’re just like where am I? What’s going on? The first thing that hit me was when I went to school. My first day here, they had a projection screen up and the teacher used a clear projector with the screen over it, she was doing a math problem, and I was like “what is that?” But beyond that it was how the students were talking to her. They were berating her, and I am thinking where I come from you wrote on the board till your fingernails bled. You didn’t get handouts, you didn’t get calculators, you had to do mental math. So all of that was really shocking. And when I didn’t cow what a pep rally meant, after a two weeks in school, there was a pep rally. I could do English, I knew how to write but I don’t know what pep rally means. Things like that. A refuge is exactly what that word means. It is a French word which means, seeking safety. You could be seeking safety from a domestic violence situation, or famine from a drought in Darfur, you can be seeking safety from political persecution. You could be seeking safety from your child assaulting you. A refugee is just that, a person seeking refuge. Immigration allows for education. I heard something on NPR today, by just immigrating, even just watching a movie from another country you’re learning. SO immigration is more than a physical move, it is mental, a process. It’s almost like a spiritual journey because coming from an improvised part of the world we are not coming and taking assets, but I feel like we are enriching that American stew. There are different seasonings that I bring along , and that I can bring to that flavor or perspective in life that can help shape your view. In a way that you may have never otherwise been able to see. You may be born with a silver spoon or everything in your life, but you don’t know what it’s like to have empathy for someone who doesn’t have it. A lot of what we are seeing with the immigration band is not new, this has happened all throughout history. The whole reason people try to stand by race or gender or class or social status is because they stand by this impending idea that we need to stand by our own. We need to protect our own.
MARYIATA: I came here when I was four years old with my mom and my brother, my sister was later born in America. My dad was already in Texas, waiting on us and saving up to rent a house from his sister in Oak Cliff. We moved from Quebec, Canada. However, my mom is originally from Mexico. And my dad is Guatemalan. We left Canada because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find steady work at the time. Texas offered relatives and of course, a shot at the American dream. I never knew growing up that society would have considered me poor, because I didn’t feel poor. Despite English being my parents’ third language and not having completed their degrees yet, they always worked and found a way to give us everything. We had a house, and two cars, and a big yard. I had toys and great friends and loved school. I never felt like life was a struggle growing up and that’s because I had two incredibly determined and hard working parents. They worked, went to school, and were somehow still always there for my brother and I. Trying to do a similar job in life myself now, I can only look up to them and motivate myself to fight as endlessly as they did to reach their goals. In my opinion, my parents are living the American Dream today. My mother is a teacher for DISD and my father is a retired engineer, turned Karate Sensei. To me being American means hard work and hustle is part of your ethic. It means seizing each opportunity that moves you a step closer toward your goal and you dreams. I think a lot of people associate the American dream with money and status, but I think it’s bigger than those simple desires. My parents were able to make their dreams comes true when they finally found a safe place to nest in where their children would be able to do all the things in life they didn’t have the chance to do. My sibling and I live such a privileged life because they fought so hard to get us here. Throughout American history, This country developed into a pot of the entire worlds’ races and cultures and ideas. We are unique and innovative because we bring together the best of the world. America has always attracted people seeking refuge and opportunity. To ignore those values and points in history would be erasing our truth. America thrives on the backs and knees and brains of immigrants- no matter how or why they came here. To put any type of total immigration ban, to me, is extremely un- American. Even worse and less American, is to turn our backs on those seeking refuge here.
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This story was printed in the DAWN issue.
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