Saying Things That Shouldn’t Need to Be Said
I can’t believe I’m writing this in 2018, but none of my immigrant friends have ever threatened me—either my physical safety or my personal beliefs. They’ve not corrupted me or made me obsolete. Absolutely, they have challenged me, but that’s an altogether different thing.
When I lived in the Middle East, I engaged with immigrants from Africa every day. Not just in the sense of passing them in street or lifting my feet while they swept the floor, but in the sense of hanging out, drinking shay, asking after our families, and praying together.
These wonderful people, hailing from the countries President Trump derides and others like them—Nigeria, Uganda, India, Bangladesh, Syria—became my friends.
They made up half of my church and were the most vibrant, committed members of it. They are among the most generous, gentle, compassionate people I know. They are also among the most innovative and hard-working.
We had so much fun together. We were there for each other. We saw each other as valuable parts of the Body of Christ. But really, that’s an overspiritualization. As we went about our lives, wandering in and out of each other’s doors and thoughts, we were friends. Plain and simple: friends.
Here in the States, things aren’t so different—except that now I’m on my home turf. I went to school and now go to church with immigrants from around the globe. Most of my coworkers, too, are not from here. Many of them do not look, think, or worship like I do. They have accents. Their lunches smell different—and better.
It feels crazy to say any of this. Feels crazy to share these obvious stories. Is it a sign of the times that we must say things that shouldn’t need to be said, or has it always been this way?
What Can We Even Say?
To be challenged by difference is an opportunity to grow. To be afraid or disgusted by difference is an opportunity to show one’s own ignorance. To be sure, this doesn’t only apply to immigration and refugee resettlement. It also applies to free speech on campus and freedom of the press. But we cannot have it both ways.
Unfortunately, fear and disgust is on full display, even if it is a minority opinion in this country.
The way things are now, most of my refugee friends from the Middle East or Africa will never have a chance to come to this country. It has nothing to do with who they are or their private persuasions. It has everything to do with who their leaders are, the labels in their passports, and tilted narratives about their communities of color and creed.
The way things are now, some of my friends will see their visas expire and face expulsion to the countries they were born in. That they brought life and culture and passion to the United States—not to mention money and incredible skills—seems outside the bounds of the political equation.
The way things are now, our president fires vulgarities at countries he sees as undesirable. White supremacy, disproportionately POC prison populations, and monoculturalism are on the rise.
What can I say to my brown friends except, “I’m with you”?
What could I tell my soon-to-be-expelled friend except, “I’m sorry”?
What is there to say to the guys I know facing deportation except, “I hope it doesn’t happen”?
Such responses are inadequate. The privilege from which I say them may not cheapen them, but it still covers them.
I could instead point to the data that says most Americans want you here. I could talk about how the people pulling these strings are not my voice. I could say, “Things will get better.”
But sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the headlines and the hatred.
It may be worth the reminder that 68 percent of Americans believe our openness to immigrants is part of the fabric of our national tapestry. A bunch of Americans believe welcoming outsiders inside is good. That’s a relief.
I’m relieved that the curious, other-loving compassion we learned in elementary school and Sunday school took root in our minds.
I’m relieved that the majority of my countrymen see the beauty and benefits of diversity.
I’m relieved that most Americans value variety and difference, instead of remaining satisfied with plain vanilla.
But it’s also disturbing that it’s only 68 percent. For something like this, isn’t that figure too small?
We have a long way to go when a third of our country is afraid that welcoming the stranger means losing our identity.
On the one hand, that belief is actually has some truth to it. By constantly welcoming new faces and new ideas, our identity will evolve—for the better. Even when two heads are not better than one, encountering irreconcilable beliefs has a way of sharpening our own thinking.
On the other hand, that belief is just sad. If you think you can lose your identity by welcoming neighbors from a different country, your identity must not have been very strong to begin with.
That’s what so much of this comes down to. It’s not about your skin or mother tongue—not really. It’s about identity and how secure we are in ours.
Christianity Must Have an Immigrant Culture
As Christians, there is no room for fear of the other. There is neither Greek nor Jew, neither Haitian nor Norwegian nor American. The way the Bible speaks about an end to racism—and of all the other -isms the world wants to tempt us with—Christians should be the first not only to tolerate a diversity of ethnicities, but to seek it out.
Ideals of sacrifice, hospitality, and thinking of others more than yourself are straight out of the pages of scripture.
In the same week that we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, bold and empowering legacy, how can we still reduce people to place and pigment? In the Year of our Lord, 2018, how can we still judge people based on our stereotypes about the communities they come from? Jesus Christ came out of Nazareth—a lowly backwater that Roman emperors could easily have disregarded or spoken poorly of.
As Americans, and even more as Christians, our stories are those of unity in diversity. Why do we keep choosing to forget!
To the president and the facilitators of our forgetfulness, I say no. We actually do want Africans and Salvadorans to come to the United States.
To immigrants and refugees, I say yes. You are welcome in our community. We are excited to serve you and learn from you. We are eager to grow together. We are grateful for your stories, skills, and lives.
Like you, our God came to live among those who were different than him. He also came to know the pain of oppression and ignorance. He suffered microaggressions and the cosmic aggression of his crucifixion. Wherever he went, he was a foreigner in this world. And so our God can empathize with your sufferings.
Let us also learn to empathize. Let us be welcomer of the sojourner, unifiers through beautiful variety, and neighbor to all.