Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

When I answered my phone earlier today, a voice that sounded like Darth Vader told me that they were from the IRS and that I would soon be visited by police–I HUNG UP. I didn’t bother to listen to their bullshit reason. I know the IRS will never call me. I read stuff. I educate myself. But many folks do not. This is another lie, another gimmick, another ruse to get someone to fork over money or leave their house unattended or whatever. FEAR FEAR. Ramp it up. It’s everywhere. And it makes me very angry.

We seem to be living in an era where it’s okay to use fear to make money, sell something, get elected. (It’s been done before, but as FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which translated means–don’t sit around thinking about all the things you fear or you will become paralyzed.)

SECURITY COMPANIES INSTILL FEAR

There was a time when people in the security business advertised their services by listing what you could get if you signed up: a sign in your front yard, wiring for so many rooms. Now they skip that. Now they use video of robbers at your front door or slogans like: it’s the holidays so robbers will be after your new computer and the gifts you have purchased. Then there’s the gun issue. I will not live in any state that allows open carry. I pay my taxes. I have the gift of a phone that can go with me everywhere. I can always dial 911.

NEIGHBORS INSTILL FEAR 

In the area where I live there was a big effort to prevent moving special education children from one school in one neighborhood to another school in another neighborhood. And the letters I read in the paper linked it to an influx of fear–if those kids were moved, the neighborhood would change. Really? Where is the human consideration for caring for one’s fellow man? It’s gone. Lock your doors. But remember, everything you do your children see and take to heart. Are you raising fearful children?

Fear almost always involves THE OTHER. It was the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. And as indoctrination took over, most people turned away and allowed their neighbors or doctors or teachers to be taken away. FEAR.

OUR GOVERNMENT INSTILLS FEAR

In our country today some people in power are making immigrants THE OTHER. A recent travel ban and a lie about a massacre that did not exist or illegal voting that cannot be proved strives to CONTROL US with fear. “There are bad people out there and they are going to take over.” So don’t question. Give up your own principles that you grew up with. Buy into the fear program. Join us.

AN IMMIGRANT SPEAKS

No. Absolutely not. A recent article by Lev Golinkin in the LA Times stressed once again that we are a country of immigrants. He was nine when his family fled the Soviet Ukraine. They were refugees in Austria and then made it to America. He assimilated quickly because he was young. But even at that age he discovered that immigrants are not always welcome.

I am third generation German descent. On my mother’s side my people were farmers and when they settled in the outskirts of Chicago, they opened a florist business, actually grew flowers in a large field right next to their home. My maternal grandmother had some education beyond high school. My maternal grandfather did not.

English was spoken in their households. Golinkin writes that native-born Americans enjoy a tremendous advantage over someone who cannot speak English. He writes that not knowing the language of the country one has immigrated to is greater than a barrier: When you don’t speak English, it’s as if you’ve suffered a debilitating stroke, except instead of being rushed to the hospital, you have to look for a job. What you value about yourself–your smarts, humor, honesty, eloquence–requires language. But it’s gone. You could be a poet in Arabic; in English, you’re an idiot. Worse, when you can’t communicate your thoughts to those around you, they assume you don’t have any in the first place. You disappear; you’re a non-person.

Golinkin provides some things you can do to help immigrants that you might encounter during your day:

  1. You see someone verbally attacking an immigrant who struggles with the language. Enter the equation and ask if you can help. Imbalance vanishes. Now the immigrant has a voice and the tormentor will either help with the stopped transaction or walk away.
  2. Don’t criticize an immigrant who doesn’t immediately call the police. Americans are taught from birth to assert their rights, but refugees and immigrants are wired to do the opposite. They don’t want to raise their voices or to be noticed. Golinkin relates that even though his father is an engineer and his mother a security guard for two decades in the US, they still are terrified of even the most innocuous encounters with police. I get that. My heart rate goes crazy if I’m ever pulled over by police and I’m white and native born.
  3. Finally, Golinkin asks that you not be offended if you don’t get a thank you after you have helped an immigrant. He remembers people who helped him when he first arrived in the US. Not only was he struggling with language, but he also was sick of being a charity case. BUT, he didn’t forget anyone who helped him. The bad experiences have faded, but those who helped him shine like stars.

I can still see their faces from the brief interactions that enabled me and my family to materialize out the ghostly existence of statelessness and feel human. You don’t forget the good ones.

If each one of us could strive to aid another. If each one of us could teach our children to be tolerant. If each one of us could reject what we hear daily about FEAR FEAR FEAR–we  can definitely make a difference. David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project? Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Vox.com

16 thoughts on “Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

  1. My suggestion: just be kind. I have done medical clinics in Guatemala. People have no idea just how poor these people are and how HARD they work. Their medical complaints are that their backs, necks, and feet hurt. Yes, because the women have a baby on their back and lean over a pan of hot grease all day making tortillas or they carry mangos on their heads to sell. The men farm into their 90s on the sides of hills. Their lives are tough, but they are still delightfully spirited and appreciative of what they have.

    • Thanks, Laura. As a people, we are all so spoiled. We need to try to live that way for one day, to understand that kindness goes a long way.

  2. I don’t like to think about what we are now, especially compared to what we were just a few years ago before this last election cycle really ramped up. What we need to do to start with is just learn (relearn) what the word “respect” means. That will be a good start.

    • YES, yes. Respect for one another. Respect for the truth. Respect for the things that our country knows how to do to help others. I believe in that. Thanks.

  3. Excellent post Beth. I love all the comments. And faith is something I need to always have…one of the acronyms I have heard and like is : False Evidence Appearing Real FEAR. It can scare a lot of folk into believing scams that are just that…a Scam to get their money.

    • I had not hear of that FEAR acronym. Thanks for sharing it Carol. These have been busy times and I hope you are doing okay and that your son is too. Beth

  4. Great Post we as a nation have been running on fear for quite a while. It affects so many of the decisions we make. Out of fear comes, anger, greed, hatred, bias and so many other ills. Yes, immigrants aren’t the problem, our susceptibility to fear and reacting to it blindly is the problem. You offer some great solutions. Here’s to looking at fear in the face!

    • Thanks so much, Chitra. Sometimes I struggle, but I do look fear in the face: twice I have walked up to the priest who gave the homily at my church and complained about the presentation–because if you are TEACHING FEAR, where are we? Holding your words close. Beth

  5. Great post and you are so right. Kindness goes a long way. In these times some seem to forget that. It is so much easier to attack and humiliate our fellow humans. It saddens me when I see people being treated like they don’t belong.

    • Me too, Lori. And I notice more and more that people don’t engage. Like standing in line at checkout counters. They are on their phones and avoiding eye contact. I always talk to the checkout person and call them by name. It’s a small thing, but a way of reaching out.

    • Mimi, THANK YOU for reading and commenting. It means a lot and will spur me on to continue to speak up and do what I can. I’m grateful. Beth

  6. This country was built on fear and violence and to think it will disappear entirely is naive. However, we shouldn’t allow it to overshadow the goodness of others. We all need to be the a change agent for the better part of humanity.

    • Everything you wrote is so true. Thanks Antoinette for reading and for being that change agent. Sometimes it’s hard. But trying is better than not. Beth

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