The headline above is on a sign in front of my house, and that message is in three languages: Spanish, English and Arabic. I am delighted that many of my neighbors in Maryland and D.C. have the same sign. It is a signal that we understand that our diversity as a nation is not a source for worry and concern; it is a source of our strength. It speaks to who we are as a nation.
Like the vast majority of Americans, I come from immigrant stock. On my mother's side of the family, there were Gormans and Maddens, hailing from County Mayo in Ireland, ground zero for the potato famine of the 19th century. On my father's side, the Fiedlers came from either Austria or southern Bavaria in Germany. Family lore tells me that my great grandfather left to escape serving in the army of Bismarck. (I've always loved that story because it tells me that I come by my protest instincts honestly!)
With such a background, I am like the majority of Americans: the proud descendant of immigrants. Except for Native Americans, all US citizens can claim an immigrant background, or — in the case of African-Americans — a forced enslavement background that made them unwilling immigrants.
In spite of this background, I can recall my maternal grandmother of Irish descent disparaging newer immigrants, Italians and Polish in particular. Then one day, I simply said to her: "Grandma, you're wrong. My best friends in school are named Loyacano and Brolinski." That ended that discussion.
Knowing that I am not alone with such a background, I am still stunned when I hear politicians and others talk disparagingly about new immigrants coming to the United States. I want to say: "Even my grandmother came to understand new waves of immigrants; what's the matter with you?"
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More than that, I want to shout out: "Immigrants are who we are! Immigrants (and former slaves) made this country what it is!" Yet, some people equate immigrants with criminals or "free loaders" or call them simply "illegals." (I was happy to see that Pope Francis recently said: "How many times do you hear them speak of 'illegal' as a synonym for migrant? This is incorrect; it is information that starts from an incorrect basis and that pushes the public to develop a negative opinion.")
When I think of the people I know: the Jamaican family that lives across the street, the Pakistanis and Italian-Americans who are on the board of Interfaith Voices, the people of Jewish heritage who are on our staff, our media consultant who is Muslim, the hundreds of Latinos who live in nearby Hyattsville, Maryland, the thousands of African-Americans with whom I share daily trips on the D.C. Metro and offices at WAMU where we are located — I think simply: These are the people who are building this country, championing our values and making us who we are.
We now have new waves of Latin Americans, some Syrians fleeing their terrible civil war, and Africans or Asians in search of a peaceful homeland. I welcome them. Together, we are the human mosaic created by God … and this country ought to welcome them. It's who we are. Viva diversity!
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