Immigrants come, and have always come in all sizes shapes, colors and genders, from all different cultures, ethnicities, religions and places. I am convinced however, that in most cases there are heart wrenchingly compelling reasons for them to leave all that they have ever known, in search of survival, freedom, and a better life. I know that if it was up to them, they would change their circumstances at home in order to stay in the place they know with the people and customs they love, eating the food that comforts them, listening to the music that touches their souls in the language they know.
It was Mexico, it was 1964:
“But why mommy, why do we have to leave Mexico?” I desperately asked my mother. Her answer was that there were better and more opportunities for our family in the U.S. There were opportunities for a better education, opportunities for a better living…you see, my family was suffering financial hardship in Mexico.
My father was American by birth, my mother had been born in Hungary and emigrated to Mexico as a small child with her parents and little sister. Her father had fled the growing anti-semitism in Hungary to search for a better life for him and his family. My grandmother was heartbroken at leaving her mother behind in Europe, so much so, that she made the transatlantic voyage twice with her two little girls because she hated that new country with its strange language and food. She was simply too homesick. Convinced by my grandfather before the Holocaust, she fortunately returned to Mexico in search of that better life, never to see her mother again. What sacrifices are made by immigrants!
My 11 year old brain tried to grasp my mother’s rational explanations for our move, but my 11 year old heart was broken. I didn’t want to leave my family and friends in Mexico, I didn’t want to leave my place of birth, and so this young heart of mine dragged for a long long time. My mother and I cried and cried as we said our goodbyes, she didn’t want to leave her mother and brother, and I didn’t want to leave my grandma and uncle
More deeply, at a cellular level, I needed for our family to be reunited. I needed to be with my father and 2 brothers, who 6 months earlier had made the drive from Mexico to Los Angeles. For them it was not an issue getting into the USA since they three, had been born in New York.
I had always heard my dad, a second generation American, and the grandson of Russian immigrants, say that the United States was the greatest country on earth. After a long time and as I matured, I grew to believe that this was the great country my father boasted of, with its Constitutional guarantee of “life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and with its system of “Checks and Balances” with it’s Statue of Liberty proudly standing at New York Harbor as the hope of the world.
Having been born in Mexico, at the age of 18, I had to choose and declare citizenship, and I applied to become a naturalized American citizen. I sat in an immigration office with my father where both he and I were grilled with many questions, had he ever or was he now a member of the Communist Party, would I bear arms in the defense of the United States of America.
With time, after many years and tears I adjusted to life in this great country, but I had been, and to this day, remain deeply marked by the move north.
Today, my much older brain understands and is convinced that people don’t leave their homes voluntarily. Why would they? It’s what they know and what they love. Why would they put themselves and their children at peril by undergoing a merciless journey through harsh often life threatening conditions and terrain, to arrive at a country whose language they don’t speak, whose food is not appealing to face bigotry and hatred, unless they are desperate and under duress to search for survival, freedom and a better life for themselves and/or their families.
I’ve heard an expression in reference to old houses, referring to them as having good bones. Our country, The United States of America is that old house that has good bones. Let’s be inspired by the ideals that this country was founded upon, to resurrect this old house into that “shining city on the hill” where countless, have taken refuge, and have contributed to making this the greatest land on the face of the earth.
Let’s work together to bring back dignity, character, kindness, honesty, and empathy, to become that shining beacon of hope once again. We can accomplish all of this and remain within and support “the rule of law,” while fighting indifference, a lack of compassion, and while being indignant at the normalization of cruelty.