With Thanksgiving just passed, I was reminded how at one time the white European was once the immigrant. While the story of the first Thanksgiving has been written and rewritten through numerous liberal and conservative prisms, the truth of the story is that there was a time where one group helped another group survive. The story of Puritans, Pilgrims and Native Americans has had rough patches and sad endings, but at the heart of America’s promise is that all people are welcome.
Our Statue of Liberty proudly reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore [. . .] Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” So while America is torn over the caravan of immigrants traveling to the U.S. border, many people, in an attempt to stay “consistent,” have deemed all immigrants a threat to U.S. security, forgetting that many come legally and with great skills and desires to work and be part of the great melting pot.
The caravan traveling to America is the image that many would like to paint as the face of immigration — a group of unskilled people wanting to live off the fat of the land. But, in reality, these people would be productive citizens. Part of the problem is that we read about the crime that illegal immigrants have brought, yet we don’t hear about the amazing work ethic and desire for low-wage jobs that many Americans no longer want. Intellectually, we know this, but emotionally, many go toward fear-based thinking. No race of people is any more violent than any other group.
What we must do is restructure our thinking about the immigrant experience and desire. If we can remember that there are immigrants coming into our country legally, enhancing America’s value, and engaging in the culture, then we might not fear the stranger as much.
Recently, I met a Russian-New Zealand dancer living in the Topanga Canyon area bordering Malibu. Her name is Angelika Zueva, and her current visa expires on Dec. 1, 2018, after one year of living in America to pursue her dream of dancing.
Five years ago, she fell in love with America while visiting. She took dance classes to help improve her craft. A millennial, in 2017 she applied for a work visa, hoping to find a commercial dance group that could sponsor her to stay permanently. Then a major setback happened. She tore her ACL while dancing. This meant that her time clock was still ticking, but she couldn’t pursue the work she wanted. To make ends meet she used her New Zealand education, an exercise degree in sports management from Auckland University of Technology, to become a personal trainer at a local fitness club. She also worked mornings at a local cafe and at nights at a bar in the San Fernando Valley.
Now she has choices to make. For approximately $6,500, she can apply for a longer working visa, which includes lawyers and processing fees. And that’s $6,500 she doesn’t have. While her ACL has healed, and she was signed by a talent agency, the three months of recovery hurt her ability to save enough to renew her current status.
“I want to pursue my career in America. And this part of southern California is the capital of the type of commercial dancing I do,” she said.
Here is an example of the type of immigration that we don’t hear enough about. And those traveling in that caravan probably have a lot of Angelikas, but that’s not the narrative we are sold. Liberals prop immigrants up as political puppets, and Republicans prop immigrants up as political threats. Somewhere in all that we lose the humanity and variety of people wanting to come here.
We must have laws and borders. America is a country, with her own ethos and people. Yet, while we focus so much on keeping certain types of immigrants out, maybe it’s time for conservatives to find immigrants to keep in.
There was a time when we were the immigrants. Now we must find a way to help those who sacrifice for a better life, without thinking we are sacrificing the lives of others.