Recently my friend Beth Silvers posed the question, “Do we want to be wall builders or bridge builders?” I Tweeted about Beth’s question as I found it to be a very poignant question for our culture today, and one that I believe should be personalized by all Americans.
Beth posed this question on her podcast that she cohosts with her friend Sarah Stewart Holland called, “Pantsuit Politics.” If you don’t tune in already, you are missing out. They also have another fantastic podcast called, “The Nuanced Life.’ Just a small plug for two women who I greatly admire, believe in what they are doing, and support wholeheartedly.
Alas, Beth’s question garnered a good deal of attention on my Facebook page; and really, my purpose behind Tweeting Beth’s question was not to start a squabble between my social media friends, but instead to a) state my stance, as a bridge builder and b) to encourage others to think about where they stand on the issue.
I believe in laws and living within those boundaries. I think, generally speaking, that laws are typically created to ensure protection and provision for those who sit under their authority. An example would be speed limits. I’ve done my fair share of speeding, I won’t deny it. And I’ve received a few tickets to remind me that speeding is a costly decision. Those speed limits are not in place to hinder my life, they are in place to protect my life. Often times where there are lower speed limits we find ourselves frustrated that we cannot go faster, our minimal view surveys the area around us and thinks we should be going much faster. However, sometimes what we don’t see up ahead is a traffic light, or a stop sign, or a sharp curve in the road or a visibility barrier. Without those speed limits in place we would be launching ourselves haphazardly into a dangerous situation. That speed limit is not in place to hold me back in life, or prevent me from arriving on time; it is however in place to protect me and give a guide line of how to move through that journey safely.
I believe the United States of America is the greatest nation in the world.
I wholeheartedly admit that we don’t live like it sometimes. But I think we are poised to be the leader of the free world and as such, it’s inevitable that individuals from other countries will want to come to our nation. There are those who seek refuge within our borders from their homeland which is filled with violence, danger, hate and death. There are those who seek a better life in our nation, leaving behind all they have ever known, to find something more. There are those who seek the necessary ingredients to stay alive, the basic things we take for granted, like clean water, food, and shelter. There are those who have a strong desire for a more robust education than their birthplace can provide. There are those who fall in love with someone abroad who must then return home to our shores. And there are those who have no say in the matter, and who find themselves being brought to our country as small children, or even those who are born within our borders, to parents who are not citizens of this great country.
You see, for the most part, we are all immigrants to this great nation.
Sure, there are those who are full blooded Indigenous People who’s family has always been here and has never lived on other shores. History says that the Indian people arrived to what is now the United States some 15,000 years ago, possibly even longer. The reality is they even came to this territory from Asia, but clearly, they were first. But the backstory for the vast majority of Americans is that their ancestors came to this land following the war between the thirteen colonies and Great Britain. British settlers began coming to this area in 1607, occupying Jamestown, Virginia. As time progressed and others sought a new life, colonies were developed by those coming from France, Spain, and even the Netherlands.
These colonies were populated by, immigrants.
With each turning tide of political parties, immigration becomes a hot topic. The older I get, the more I realize, that though our Democracy makes us great, it sure breeds the worst in us. This will come as a shock to some of you, but President Trump actually has some controversial stances on immigration. <<Insert all the sarcastic font and emojis on the planet here.>> A pillar of Trump’s campaign was his commitment to building a wall and removing unlawful entrants. There’s been a lot of “talk” about this wall. First, he said that Mexico was paying for this wall. Then he said it was already being built. Then he said it was going to be see-thru…well, you get the drift. President Trump has said that he wants to end chain migration, eliminate the Visa lottery, and wants to move the country to a merit-based entry system. His claim is that these reforms will advance the safety and prosperity of all Americans while helping new citizens assimilate and flourish.
For what it’s worth, I hate the word assimilate. It has a real Nazi Germany feel to me.
Chain migration is the process by which a foreign national permanently resettles in the United States and then begins to bring over their foreign relatives. The end result of chain migration? An entire family, including extended relatives, are resettled within the country. Some statistics show that somewhere around 70% of legal immigrants are admitted to the United States based on their family ties and not their merits.
And here’s the thing, I get it.
I truly believe we need to make sure any and every person that does come to our country is vetted to ensure they do not pose a threat to our national security.
Again, I’m good with laws. But the idea that we would simply prevent chain migration with no regard to families trying to get their loved ones to a better place without a vetting system in place is bonkers to me. There’s a better way. Sure, we need laws and boundaries, but just because someone wants to bring their family over doesn’t mean they should be stopped simply based on that fact. If the world goes crazy(ier) and I ever have to escape this country, you can bet that I’ll do everything I can to bring my sisters, my brother, their families, my aunts and uncles and cousins, etc…to wherever I find safety and freedom. That being said, yes, I understand that individuals like Akayed Ullah, Ahmed Amin El-Mofty, Zoobia Shanaz, Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan and Khaleel Ahmed found citizienship in this country because of chain migration through their families and went on to commit heinous, terroristic crimes like attempting to set off a pipe bomb in the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal, targeting police at multiple locations in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, laundering bitcoin and wiring funds to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), recruiting ISIS fighters, providing material supper to al Queda…and the list goes on. I get it. There’s no perfect system. But for every Uzair Paracha, there are countless men and women who are living their lives lawfully within our borders who’ve escaped here to find a better life.
The question Beth posed on “Pantsuit Politics” to me was much broader than the tangible, wall or bridge analogy. To me, this question was more about who you are as a person.
Are you someone that works to bridge the gaps not just surrounding immigration?
Are you someone who fights for those who can’t fight for themselves? Are you someone who includes everyone, not just the ones that add value to your life, or your image? Are you someone who speaks up for those who can’t speak for themselves? Are you someone who looks for ways to leave your community better than you found it? Are you someone who operates from a point of privilege or someone who operates from a point of equality?
It’s easier to put up walls in our lives.
It’s easier to say “these are my people,” and be done with those who are not in that tribe. It’s easier to “call a spade a spade” and never think twice about why it might be so. It’s easier to write people off because of our differences. It’s easier to dismiss those who can do nothing for you. It’s easier to not speak up when it’s a difficult topic. It’s easier to stay cozy in our white circles and not step foot in the shoes of those who are not “on the inside.“. It’s easier to say, “the Bible says Adam and Even and not Adam and Steve” than to understand someone may not be built like you are. It’s easier to walk right past that man asking for some change than to empty your penny-heavy wallet in his cup.
Beth’s question was, “do you want to be a wall builder or a bridge builder?” So which is it. This really doesn’t have to stop at the political conversation, though that is a vital part of the conversation. Do you really want to say to that Dreamer that was born in this country, albeit to those who are not legalized citizens, that they are no longer welcome here even though this is the only place they have ever lived and they have learned here, studied here, become educated here, held jobs here, and are paying taxes here? Do you really want to say to that small business owner in your town who has been providing a service to your community for decades now and actually came here legally but overstayed his Visa that he needs to leave? Do you really not want to find a pathway to citizenship for those who are here for the right reasons?
Or, do you want to find a way to do this thing the right way?
Do you want to find a way to develop a bipartisan plan that protects those who just want a better life and mean no harm to our borders? Do you want to find a way to protect our nation while allowing us all to grow? It’s like the speed limit, it exists for a reason, there are places that it is higher and places that it is lower; it all depends on what will allow someone to safely maneuver the road at that place. The same can be said for immigration. There are ways to allow those to come in and those to stay, and their are places and people to decrease their presence based on what is the safest practice.
We can do the hard things America.
We are a nation built on hard work and toughness. We are a nation built on fighting for a better life. We are that “shining city on the hill.” We are not the hate that is spewed constantly by loud voices. We are not bigots who march, with and without hoods. We are not racists who call each other names and refuse service because of color or creed. We are not phobic of love no matter what it looks like. Granted, some folks weren’t raised right and they don’t know how to act or how to treat others. But we need to be a people who builds bridges right over those who are foolish.
I’m raising a little boy who doesn’t match me wholly, or his Daddy wholly.
Our little boy is a beautiful blend of two ethnicities. He has his Momma’s eyes and his Daddy’s dimples. But his skin tone doesn’t match either of ours. And sometimes, at two years old, he is treated differently because of that. And if that is not insanity to you, I don’t know what is. He’s two. He can say his ABCs and count to ten in English and Spanish. About 50% of everything else he says sounds like gibberish no matter how passionately he delivers it. He’s scared of the dark, loud noises, new places and strangers. But yet, his sweet innocence isn’t enough to allow him to be treated normally. People who will treat a two year old differently because of their mixed race are wall builders. And I refuse to allow their walls to hold my son back, contain his spirit, or keep him from any dream he has.
I’ll build every bridge possible, over every wall and wall builder, until my little boy can be all that he wants to be with no regard to the blending of his skin.
And I’ll do the same for the little boy in his class who moved here from India, or the beautiful little black girl with pig tails he likes to play volleyball with. And I’ll build bridges for his buddy Andrew who was born to our friends Madeline and Drew, who both mark Caucasian on their I9s. I’ll build bridges that allow Andrew and Judd to be friends for life with no concern or regard that their skin tones don’t match. And I’ll build bridges for the Woodard girls who are like family to us. Three little, strong-willed, smart, and free spirited, glitter-covered girls, who will walk across the bridges we build to be anything they want to be when they grow up. I’ll build bridges for Adrian Wood’s youngest little boy who has the most beautiful blonde hair and brilliant smile, and also has special needs.
You see for every wall builder out there, there are those of us who will be bridge builders.
For every person who wants better for themselves and their family, for every little boy who’s skin tone doesn’t match the norm, and for every little girl who dreams of being President, we will build those bridges.
Do better America.