One, From Many
For a couple of weeks it has been on my heart to use this space to address the unthinkable - that the United States of America has been separating children of all ages from their parents, after being caught crossing the border. This issue is so emotionally charged for me that I have found it difficult to process and even more difficult to talk about.
My father came to this country at the age of 9. His father, Jesus Maria Hernandez, had heard about America, the place where the streets were paved with gold. Ever in search a better life for his family, my grandfather set off with a friend from their home country of Colombia. They entered the United States legally, found work, got settled, and then sent for their families. While my grandfather was preparing for them to come, my grandmother and her five children, along with the friend's family of four lived in a crowded pension (boarding house) in the mountains of Colombia in a town called Madrid.
After some time my grandfather and his friend sent for their families. They arrived in Hialeah, Florida. Being as this was the early 50's, southern Florida was a much different place than it is now. No one spoke Spanish there, and my father and friends were very much the odd ones out. When it was time to go to school, my father was put into the first grade classroom, even though he was 9 years old and towered above his 6 year-old classmates. At that time there was no such thing as ESL or EFL programs, so immigrant children simply had to start at the beginning until they crash-coursed enough English to get by. As his English improved, my dad was gradually moved up to an appropriate grade level. However, I think that initial experience of attending school in America left him with a persistent feeling of being different, an outsider, less intelligent.
It is an understatement to say that it pains me to think of those thousands of children sitting in internment camps, frightened and alone, imprisoned for the crime of fleeing their home country out of sheer desperation. My dad is a man of action more than he is of words (meaning he doesn't talk much about his feelings), and yet I can only imagine how profound his anguish is to think of those children, whose only difference to him are a few strokes of Fate.
What if America had instituted the current immigration policy 60 years ago? My father wouldn't be here. I would not be here. My sweetheart wouldn't be here, nor would countless numbers of Americans. America is the country of immigrants. To now assert that we no longer welcome immigrants, that in fact we hate them so much that we are willing to spend millions to build walls to keep them out, to jail them, to torture them by separating them from their innocent children, is an insult to the founding fathers who we are supposedly honoring this Wednesday.
The 4th of July is not about fireworks and frankfurters, anymore than Christmas is about Santa Claus and pine trees. Independence Day is about an experiment in idealism, a departure from an outdated system of haves and have nots, of the rulers and the ruled. The United States of America was an experiment in self-governance by a body of people who had all come from somewhere else seeking a better life for themselves and their future generations.
Whether we vote red or blue or something in between, we are all Americans, descendants of immigrants. There is nothing, other than time, that separates our ancestors from the immigrants of today. If you do not know your family's immigration story take a few moments to learn more about it. Somewhere, at some time, someone thought enough of you, their unknown future generation, to make a brave experiment in search of freedom.