We Are/Were All Immigrants

Xenophobia, or “fear of strangers,” is still rearing its ugly head in this country. We hear nasty anti-immigrant sentiments expressed, particularly disturbing when voiced by some political candidates.

I find this sad and disappointing, but it is especially remarkable given that the vast majority of us are descendants of immigrants, either recent or long past.

Most immigrants have escaped from abject poverty or treachery, and are looking for a safe haven in which their children might have a chance to grow, succeed and yes, contribute to society.

While every immigrant’s story is unique, the process of leaving a homeland and being thrust into a new way of life can be daunting.  New immigrants often toil in poorly paid jobs and are made to feel invisible. Many without papers and with children born here are deliberately “under the radar,” to avoid incarceration or deportation. Lack of money, little education, a new language, and few marketable skills complicate this arduous experience.

Even if they have some resources, they are inevitable confronted by novel and strange sounds, signs, dress, foods, values. laws and customs,  that are often jarringly different from what they have been used to. They have to learn new social behaviors which we all take for granted, such as voice tone, eye contact, hand gestures, and even the acceptable distance between conversing people.

As a result immigrants have always tended to gather in familiar groups—family, ethnic, and racial clans. In these settings, at least, living, working, playing, and relaxing among familiar people is most comfortable, where color, communication and culture are easily shared.

The separation of cultures dissipates after a generation or two, but melting pots go only so far; ethnic communities exist in all countries with diverse cultures and immigrants. People gravitate to those with common roots and traditions, and where they experience that precious sense of belonging.

Anti-immigrant attitudes tend to dissipate with personal experiences with newcomers. Contacts during pleasant times (e.g., meals, parties, or sports events) and during stressful times (e.g., losses, illnesses, or accidents) enlighten and educate people about their similarities. So- called foreigners, it turns out, are just like us.

Immigrants enhance our society. They have always enriched just about every facet of our lives: culture, music, business, sports, science, education, cuisine and more.

I daresay, this is just like the wonderful contributions your own forebears (or you) have made.

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