This is my simple definition of immigration. It is not about policy, law, or legislation. It is certainly not a comprehensive history. Rather, it is about the human story of immigration as I see it: A story of struggle, sacrifice, loss, hunger, risk, hope, and will. The story of the immigrant is a story of personal peril, unimaginable odds, and human triumph. A dear friend from Nicaragua was born to a single mother. In their native country, they struggled for food and survival. Her mother in the face of fear and risk crossed the Rio Grande despite not knowing how to swim. She created a new life for herself and her two daughters. Immigration is forever and always a human story. It is a story that touches each and every one of us, we may just have to look a little deeper and a little longer. Immigration is the story of my good friend’s parents who came from China without a penny in the late 1960’s. He received a Ph.D. in physics and then went on to go to chiropractic school. He and his wife raised four American born Chinese children and have helped countless other Chinese redefine their own lives.
Each story is a story of individual triumph-to succeed despite all that stacked against them. The spirit of immigration is the spirit of hope. It is a belief in change. The courage to risk and the grit to survive. Immigration shouts to the world that hope is alive, and a better life is possible. I believe that immigration is powerful. I think it’s important. I see it as fundamental. Steve Job’s biological father was a political refugee from Syria, Madeline Albright fled Germany during World War II and eventually came to the US, and Sergey Brin of Google is a Russian Jew from Moscow.
My beautiful friend, in her 70’s now, emigrated from Iran in her childhood. Her family left wealth and social class for the ideals of opportunity, equality, and freedom. Immigration reflects a value of shared ideas, commitment to a collective future, and a belief that differences create growth. It is an understanding that an open door generates opportunity and enables possibility. Our American history of immigration demonstrates that closing that same door may have unknown, unforeseen, and far-reaching consequences in art, ideas, and entrepreneurship. Immigration is a talisman of the American dream and a deep reflection of American hope. It is part and parcel to all and everything our young nation has accomplished.
When I watch a caravan of immigrants crossing waters and borders, I see courage, grit, and hope. I get that there are legal ramifications and logistical complications; nonetheless, immigration renews my hope in the human spirit, demonstrates the will to survive, and inspires personal destiny. I believe in a world that says, “yes.” I want to live in a land of open doors and untold possibility for all and everyone. I am also a realist. I know that life and immigration are not binary-right and wrong, good and bad. Nonetheless, I do believe unequivocally that it is important to recognize bravery and celebrate our collective human hope. I want to rally behind possibility, opportunity, and courage. And I feel in my bones that each and every one of us must remember our shared history. It is problematic to separate our past success from future choices. For me, there is far too much focus on human difference. We see what divides rather than what connects. Each of us walks, and talks, and breathes. All of us will live and all of us will die. None are free from pain, loss, sickness, and hope. I want to live in a world and a nation that inhales and exhales a shared narrative-a human narrative. Each of us must reflect and ask where is the greater risk, personally and as a nation, in an open door or a closed one?