All the Difference

There have been many posts, messages and tweets calling for love and kindness following the presidential elections.  I would like to add mine. 

I first visited the United States in the spring of 2003 and two years later started my immigration process. It was not a time particularly friendly towards immigrants. And while I was not in one of the groups targeted by increased security measures of post 9-11 America, the policies and rhetorics of that time affected me deeply. It was the first time when a government had a direct power over my life and could decide where I lived, whether or not I could work or stay with my husband. I was afraid. I was afraid of denial, of deportation, afraid to say a word of comment or criticism against the immigration process or the government, out loud or in an email. I was also poor. Not able to work legally while waiting for my green card, we lived on my husband’s paycheck that just about covered the bills. There were times when our rent payments had been preceded by frantic search for quarters on the floor or pockets of winter coats. There were times when empty bottles along the sidewalk were stronger than my pride. I remember how ashamed I felt because I could not work. At that time places where I would otherwise meet people and make friends; work, classes or coffeeshops were out of my reach. I was new in town and without a car. . My husband worked long hours and I spent most of my time alone,  the isolation feeding into my fear. I did not know about organizations like ILAP in Portland that provide low or no cost help to immigrants and refugees.  I sorted through the paperwork myself,  checking the documents again and again, waiting for appointments,  for medical exam, waiting on the phone to reach the INS and IRS hoping in vain for some answers. Waiting, always waiting. 

I got my Green card, started working and meeting people in town. I remember the woman who would tell me to take a break when I was cleaning her house. She would make coffee, bring out cookies and ask me about my family.  Few minutes spent in a friendly conversation gave me back a bit of dignity when I felt like little more than a number in the files. We are still friends today. I remember the woman who gave me my first full-time job despite the fact that I had no references or experience. Later when my marriage fell apart, she offered me a place to stay.  These days she wonders how she can explain the words on the street to her children, words of intolerance, discrimination and hate. I am not a parent but I believe that her children see how she treats others and I hope that her acts of kindness speak for themselves.  I remember all the friends who have since opened their doors, shared their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and made me feel like a member of their family. They have turned a new town and country into a home.

The times are again unkind towards immigrants. Like before I am not one of the targeted groups and cannot imagine the pain of the people who are. I was not raised in this country. My immigration status is apparent every time I enter the United States and am asked by the border patrol why. It is apparent every time I speak. Yet, I care for America. I  myself did not know how deeply I cared until a few days ago when I watched with horror what was happening. I have cried and grieved and wished I could be with my friends. And I think of the thousands of people who grew up in the United States but don't have papers because their parents did not have papers. This is their home, the country they love, and yet they live in fear that the lives they have built are in danger. I think of all those who are affected by words like “illegals” and “mass deportation.”  I know this is a complex issue without easy answers, there are laws to obey and borders to protect, there are those  working hard but still struggling who feel disadvantaged by benefits they think are given to others. But I do hope that those who fell out of favor are treated with dignity. I hope they have communities and networks that support them and neighbors who get to know them for who they are regardless of their race, religion or immigration status. I hope that they, like I once did, receive many acts of kindness from their friends, neighbors and strangers. They have made a difference.