For the past two years, the world has seemingly gone mad over immigrants and immigration.
'These immigrants are taking our jobs!'
'Immigrants bring nothing but crime.'
'They can either assimilate or go back to where they came from!'
For most of the past year, I've been establishing a new life in London amid a very palpable discontent over Brexit. I've sat amongst acquaintances in pubs and family members at gatherings, and listened in silence as people raged against certain ethnic immigrants in their neighbourhoods or workplaces. And inevitably the speaker will glance at me and say, 'I don't mean you, Christine. I just mean other people...'
But if you spew all encompassing hate speech about immigrants being lazy or thieves, why would that not apply to me? Is it because I'm white passing? Is it because I'm American? Is it because I'm your friend or relative? Because please don't get any facts twisted: I AM an immigrant. I AM here to work (AKA: 'steal [your] jobs'). I AM here and don't feel the need to not be proud of my heritage.
But even beyond myself, I come from a long line of immigrants, as most Americans do. My paternal grandfather emigrated from Italy in the '20s and my maternal grandparents came from Puerto Rico during the '70s. They both moved to the United States knowing zero English. Someone asked me recently why they never tried to learn English. To put it simply, they were uneducated. They came from a life of poverty, where hard work equalled survival, and to attend school would have been viewed as a luxury. When they moved to the United States, they moved to neighbourhoods that were filled with other Italians and Latinos. They found low-paying, back-breaking jobs and made a living for themselves and their blossoming families. And in spite of the fact that he spoke very broken English, the United States government didn't have a problem sending my paternal grandfather overseas to fight during World War II. My grandfather, an immigrant, helped defend that country, and do you know what thanks he was met with back home? Anti-Italian racism and poor medical care as he got older. He ended up dying of colon cancer due to the malpractice of the doctors at the Veterans Association who sent him home three times with a misdiagnosis of various digestion issues.
My mother moved to America with her family as a pre-teen. Being one of 13 brothers and sisters, she attended her last two years of middle school and first year of high school before dropping out to start working and help support the family. As she got older she learned to speak English better though always retained her thick accent. And in spite of my personal feelings towards her, I can acknowledge the fact that she worked incredibly hard to make sure our family lived comfortably. She sometimes held up to three jobs at a time, either as a housekeeper or a gardener to earn money.
At one point in her early 30s, my mother decided she wanted to learn to read English. So she went twice a week to the local library where they held evening reading lessons for adults who spoke English as a second language. My father and I would drive to pick her up at 8pm when the lessons would finish, and she would get in the car and tell us about what she had learned. On one particular evening, she got in the car and, in a rare occurrence, I saw my mother on the verge of tears. She explained that as she waited in front of the library for us to arrive, a cop had driven by and told her to leave. When she explained that she was waiting for us, he insisted that she leave or he'd arrest her for solicitation; a scary word she surely wouldn't have understood the meaning of, but that my father and I did. The cop had baselessly assumed my dark skinned Hispanic mother was a prostitute because she was waiting on the sidewalk. My father was insistent that we go to the police department and file a complaint, but she refused. She knew the cops would protect their own and do nothing to help a woman of colour. But perhaps even more sadly, she never felt safe enough to go back to those reading lessons ever again.
And now today, I find myself following in my family's footsteps and being a third generation immigrant myself. Unlike them though, I don't experience racism on a day-to-day basis. I don't get harassed by police officers for minding my own business. And I've had no trouble finding a good paying job in trendy areas. London has largely welcomed me, by all intents and purposes. But it's when people say that I'm an exception or that I'm a 'good type' of immigrant that gets under my skin. It's inherently racist, because if those people who make those types of comments saw my relatives they would say they were the 'bad types' of immigrants, but that's so far from the truth. I have the strong work ethic that I have because of my immigrant family. They were handed nothing when they came to America and worked physically exhausting jobs to survive, just so that their descendants could have a more comfortable life than they did.
My immigrant family was selfless. They were determined. They were brave. And they and the millions of other immigrants throughout the world are so much better than your closed-minded stereotyping.