Immigration Strengthens our American Identity

By Sarah Viets

Over the last few years, the topic of immigration has filled our hearts and minds. Is it good for our country? Who benefits from the flow of immigrant labor? What about our schools, our local hospitals? What about our jobs?

All we hear is how little money we have for education, how much our health care plans have increased because the state must pay the tab for uninsured patients, like undocumented immigrants, or how American businesses prefer to hire immigrants because they work at a low wage.

How can any of these concerns strengthen, preserve, and protect what it means to be an American?

Being an American means to inspire the people you love to hold onto their dreams. It means to stand tall and let go of your fears. It means hope, aspiration, optimism, perseverance, freedom, and liberty. Being an American means to take what you’ve been given, and transform it into something unimaginably new.

None of here, as citizens, has succeeded on our own. We are who we are today because of the support of our family, friends, schools, and jobs. That’s what being an American is all about. It’s not about protecting “number one,” it’s about looking out for each other, no matter where we come from.

Our American strength - our individual courage - comes from each other, not just from ourselves.

What makes us strong is our ability and courage to challenge ourselves. What makes us strong, like our ancestors, is our willingness to plunge into the unknown, to see hope in unpredictable futures.

There are three different reasons why most of our ancestors left their family and friends and everything that defined who they were: they were fleeing religious or political persecution, they were looking for jobs to feed their families, or they were stolen from their homeland and used as slaves to help build our nation. And in each of these reasons, is a contradiction in what we stand for. At the root are two different meanings about what it means to be an American.

What defines who we are, what defines our great nation in my mind, were the two actions that followed.

Some people persecuted thousands of families who already lived here. And some stayed strong and remembered their history, their painful past, and created and fought for a brighter future. They stood tall and side-by-side with something unfamiliar. And the fact that our ancestors remained hopeful in times of darkness shows how much strength we have hidden inside ourselves.

New cultures, customs and people may seem foreign, at odds with who we are. But opening ourselves to new challenges and the unknown is what makes us strong; it’s what makes us American.

So today, just like our ancestors, we have two choices:

We can sit back and blame the rise of healthcare costs, low wages, the environment, population growth, and our under funded public schools on undocumented immigrants, or we can open up our American hearts and minds and fight to preserve human dignity for all people, no matter what language they speak, the house they worship in, or the national flag of their homeland.

I’m not saying this is going to be easy, change never is. We prefer the familiar. We prefer our mom’s home-style cooking when we’re not sure where our next meal is coming from. The idea of opening our homes - our country - to someone we don’t even know when we barely have enough time and money to support ourselves seems unreasonable. It doesn’t make sense.

But every time we do, our country doesn’t die. We become stronger.

So when you ask yourself, what immigration can do for you, how can immigration strengthen who I am, my American Identity, think of what makes you strong. Think of what makes you proud to be an American.

They said any white man who didn’t own property couldn’t participate on Election Day.
They said black men and women must remain slaves, that there was no room or need for them to participate in the American dream. They said Mexicans, Asians, or any person without white skin must stand on the sides, not front and center. They said women must stay home and not participate in American Democracy.

But every time America opens her doors, every time each one of us steps outside our comfort zone, every time we open our hearts and souls to an idea we’re unfamiliar with, we become stronger. We become honorable.

We become an American.

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