It was a beautiful California day. The sun was shining through the clouds, making the cool, crisp, weather at the sign declaring the entrance to Redwoods National Forest almost dreamlike. As we pulled into the pit stop to take a picture at the sign, an elderly woman walking up with her phone came into view. Seizing an opportunity for someone to take our photo, we eagerly inquired if she’d be willing to take our photo. She obliged, as she wanted someone to take her photo as well. While exchanging the usual pleasantries, there was something she said that has grown increasingly troubling in my heart. We told her we started at San Diego and ended up at the Redwoods- planning to go another several hundred miles up the coast before we reached Oregon.
“Did you leave San Diego to escape the immigrants? She jokingly asked. I let out a nervous chuckle before tersely replying, “We’re all immigrants.”
We ended up getting our picture taken and saying our farewells, but I want to touch on a few things that made this statement so troubling to me.
First off, the statement implies that their is something inherently wrong with immigrants that would cause someone to want to pack up their belongings and flee from them.
Secondly, when one uses such a broad brush by asking if we are fleeing “the immigrants” it begs the question, which immigrants were she referring to? I’m assuming that since we said we departed from San Diego, she was referencing those of a Hispanic culture and background. However, unless this woman was native American, which she clearly wasn’t, she’d have to be an immigrant as well.
I’m starting to realize that this is how xenophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry fester. Someone says something racist or xenophobic as a “joke” and then no one calls them out on it. Left alone and unencumbered, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry will only fester. To see or hear racism or bigotry in any of its forms and not condone it is simply a silent endorsement of it. We’ve seen throughout history the impact that ignorance, scapegoating, racism, and bigotry have had.
The question now becomes- will we learn from our collective history to avoid repeating it, or will America have to endure tougher scars in the future?
So my full answer now to the woman who asked me if I left San Diego to escape the immigrants is simply this: We are all immigrants. To simply ignore or chose to forget about this fact is simply ignorance. At its best, America is a place of unmatched opportunity and promise for those who are willing to work hard, follow the rules, and incorporate themselves into our society. I don’t ever want to escape from immigrants. I want to welcome them. I want to invite them in and show them what makes America so special. I hope one day you feel the same way too. After all, you wouldn’t be here today if someone hadn’t given your ancestors a chance at America.
E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One.