Editor’s Note: I originality wrote this back in 2015
I thought it could use a re-post.
My great-great-grandfather came here from Ireland. He did so to escape famine, civil war and oppression. He left everything he knew – family, friends and culture – to come to America and create a new life.
He was not welcomed with open arms.
At that time the Irish were treated as pariahs. They were called less than human, lower than dogs. They were treated with disdain and disrespect. They were given the most dangerous jobs and paid wages that amounted to little more than indentured servitude. But they persevered. And in little more than a couple of generations the children of coal miners and stable muckers were attending college, walking the beat on city streets and owning businesses.
I am the descendant of immigrants. My life is possible because of the hardship and courage of my immigrant family.
This of course is not exclusive to the Irish. Many nationalities and cultures have immigrated to this country and faced similar obstacles. Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Persian and on and on and on – almost every type of people in the world have come to America to start a new life, to find new opportunities; sometimes voluntarily and sometimes not. The fact is, unless your native language is Navajo or Cherokee, you are, however distant, a child of immigrants.
This is what makes us unique. This is what makes us strong. America is the land of new opportunities – the land of second chances.
This is why it bothers me when I see the reaction to the refugees coming from Syria. These are people who have been devastated by civil war, lives that have been destroyed by terrorism. They have lost their homes, their possessions and have watched family members die. These are people who require our sympathies and our help not indifference and disdain. And yet this is exactly what the refugees are greeted with – anger and hate – exactly what my great-great-grandfather went through, exactly the thing they are attempting to escape. We as a country are mistaken in not acting charitably towards people who need our help. We should be better than that.
There are some in this country who like to proclaim America a “Christian Nation” but do not seem to want to practice the most basic of Christian deeds: helping the poor and the least among us and caring for orphans and widows in their distress. Others see this issue as a political fight and would use the lives of helpless people to gain a political advantage. Still others are just afraid.
But welcoming the Syrian refugees should not be seen as a religious obligation or a political stand. It should be done for one simple reason: it is the right thing to do.
Look, I’m not naive. Terrorism is a clear and present threat and one that needs to be defended against and prepared for; but we should not combine our vigilance with fear. And we should not confuse the victims of terrorism with those who perpetrate it.
What makes America great is our diversity; and that diversity stems from those who have come from other places bringing with them their culture and ideas. Throughout our history this country has been a refuge for the downtrodden and the dispossessed. We have been a sanctuary for those who have no place else to go.
We should not forget that because we are afraid.
We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. America was built and made stronger by the people it has welcomed in and it continues to be made stronger still by those to whom we give a fresh start and a new home. And we are a better people because we do this.
Original published on November 20th, 2015