Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Last Friday, in between lessons in an Effective Learning class I teach at a local community college, two of my students and I noticed there were quite a few people absent.
Maybe some are getting a head start on a long weekend, chuckled one student. The other reminded us of the national “Day Without Immigrants” protest.
Ah; maybe some of the students were participating in that.
The three of us looked at one another and simultaneously acknowledged we are all of immigrant heritage, too.
None of us, however, prefers a hyphenated status. We all agreed: we are Americans which, by definition and by design is “e pluribus unum,” i.e., “out of many, one,” the nation’s motto.
For me, it is a bit more of a practical issue. Were I to string my ancestry together, it would be a long hyphenated list, emanating, as I do, from several European countries as well as the Pottawatomie Native-American tribe from Northern Michigan.
And there’s the family lore concerning one branch of my paternal forebears, the one from Scotland. Let’s just say their leave-taking from the homeland was strongly encouraged by the locals.
One of my students noted that his grandparents, from another European country, also came into the United States under less-than-ideal circumstances; nevertheless, they assimilated here, as did mine.
In fact, the student spoke with some passion about the hardship involved in his grandparents’ immigration during the Great Depression, and then he brought up the OTHER aspect of the current controversy–making legal immigration easier—the side of the issue that is nearly eclipsed by the high emotion and political theater over The Wall (a focal point of last Friday’s protest).
All three of us agreed. Legal immigration is in sore need of attention, too…
Class resumed, but as I thought about our conversation, memories of the nine terms I taught the Citizenship Class at the same community college in the early 2000s surfaced.
The students I served back then, from many countries, creeds, and cultures, all told a similar story of how hard it was (even without controversy) to attain citizenship in the United States.
They were not complaining, however, just doing the work: saving money for all the fees, standing in lines for applications and interviews, and waiting the requisite time while studying for the famous “100 questions test” on U.S. history, government, and citizenship.
I also thought of my late mother’s husband who served as an Immigration official in Seattle during the so-called “Reagan Amnesty” period starting in the late 1980s.
He was on the other end of the process, that of testing the hopefuls and welcoming those who finished the work and made the grade.
He spoke of his great joy to be the first to tell the hundreds he processed that they were official citizens of the United States of America.
It was, though, a complex process then, too, involving careful legal work, waiting, paying the fees, and coordinating the efforts of multiple sources and resources to aid the prospective citizens in the unique circumstances of their amnesty status.
But I think serious students of all the factors and ramifications involved in this process would agree that attaining citizenship in a foreign nation ought to be complex and thorough. Indeed, there are countries far more stringent in their requirements than are we in the United States…
Nevertheless, as my students and I agreed, in our brief conversation, there should be at least as much energy devoted to streamlining the legal process of immigration as in cleaning up the illegal chaos.
And perhaps a celebration called “A Day With Immigrants? wherein virtually every American would celebrate, in some way, with gratitude, this nation who took our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents in so that we today can continue the life for which they laid the foundation?
Perhaps this would help balance what seems to be the currently imbalanced efforts to solve the whole problem.
Perhaps this would also balance the often black-and-white thinking, divisive in its politics, that too often side-tracks solutions in the tyranny of the fray, whether the “fray” is engineered by those who benefit by it, or by those who are merely caught up in it.
There needs to be a way to solve both problems.
UPDATE: How this appeared as an editorial in my local newspaper: