instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Blog

My American Passport

Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.

--Abraham Lincoln

I was in the laundromat piling my wet clothes into the dryer when Ricardo began to talk to me. I’ve changed his name to protect his identity because he is an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the United States for more than twenty years, married and raised his children here, and has rarely, if ever, missed a day of work. He deals with the neighborhood’s dirty laundry all day long, washing, drying and folding it neatly into multi-colored bags. His English is rudimentary. He is paid less than minimum wage. He doesn’t complain because he is undocumented. He hadn’t seen his parents in more than ten years when, in desperation, he snuck over the border last summer and spent all of his savings on a coyote to bring him back.

More than one of my neighbors help Ricardo with his English. He has a new workbook; between cycles, he studies. He has always wanted to better himself. He has always worked. His children are “dreamers,” and have all attended college. He calls me “Teacher.” “Teacher,” he began. “Teacher, I am afraid. What will happen with this new president?” I showed him the safety pin on my hat and tried to explain. I said, “This pin means you are safe with me.” I wrote down the words “sanctuary city” in my small pocket notebook, ripped out the page and handed it to him. How would this scrap of paper help? I told him about my refugee parents, but as soon as I began to speak, I knew that it was not an analogous story. Despite the traumas of war and the unconscionable losses of a genocide, my parents were granted immediate legal residency and became naturalized citizens. The disruption in their lives eased and their children were born Americans. To carry an American passport became an emblem of safety and opportunity. I am glad they are not alive to witness President Trump’s draconian, inhumane executive immigration orders .

I have not been everywhere with my American passport, but I have friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues from everywhere. Some have two passports or green cards and lead trans-national lives, yet they, too, now feel endangered. Overseas students at NYU with legal visas have been urged not to leave the country as they may not be granted entry upon return. It is not at all clear if our “dreamer” students will be harassed or their parents deported. Much as we would like to say we are a sanctuary campus, there are no guarantees. A Palestinian-American friend, who has been a citizen for a long time, is having strange dreams: “Carol, I had a dream last night. Hundreds of coyotes were running after Trump attacking him. He was crying furiously and I woke up shaking.” I was pleased he wrote the dream down because it became a story. The beginning of a memoir, perhaps. His family was displaced in 1948 by the formation of the State of Israel and he has a story to tell, a good story, an American-Palestinian story.

There is so much work to do for all of us: daily phone calls, marches, other political actions. But this is all good. We’ve come alive to our responsibilities as citizens and patriots. Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment

Not Just Words

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.

--President Barack Obama in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015.

We didn't know what to expect when we arrived at the Court House in Kingston, NY last Friday morning. As we were leaving, my British-born son-in-law, Ryan, quipped wryly that he might be alone in the court room. His citizenship test and interview had taken place in Lower Manhattan which was teeming with people, but this was Kingston, a small, historic town in Ulster County. The town dates back to the 17th century Dutch period and there are many stone houses in the “stockade,” as it is called, in the old part of town. It was the perfect location to become a hyphenated Anglo-American or an American of British ancestry; the choice is always ours.

The ceremony took place in the Supreme Court of the State of NY, Hon. Mary M. Work presiding. And there were many surprises. First, the judge was a woman, an older woman—brava to that—and the Clerk of the Court, Nina Postupack, redundant to say, was also a woman, a younger woman. Brava to that, too.

Secondly, the court room was crowded: 46 soon-to- be New Americans from 30 countries, friends and family, filled the hard wooden seats. A woman handed out brochures for ESL classes and a Daughter of the American Revolution distributed American flag lapel pins. Just think about that, I thought, how that venerable elitist organization has had to change.

But, most surprising, were the thoughtful narratives from elected officials and the Judge. The most touching: Legislator Craig V. Lopez told the story of his Puerto Rican family, a hardscrabble childhood, and what it means to him to be an American. Then a local high school choir sang the National Anthem and God Bless America and the New Americans took an oath of allegiance which sounded dated, but also profound.

The next day President Obama addressed a crowd in Selma, his eloquent and elegant speech the perfect addendum to the citizenship ceremony, a reminder of how this country was formed and how much work we still have to do. The President is a good storyteller and a good writer, as were our well-educated, well-read Founding Fathers.  Read More 
Be the first to comment