“Since when has a wall been able to withstand human will?”
Journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas posed the question at the National Scholastic Press Association Journalism Education Association convention in April, referencing presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed US-Mexico border wall, but it reminds me of my own journey and the journey of our entire country.
When my parents legally immigrated to America for high school and college, they did so with the hope of providing better opportunities for future generations. All that I have is a result of the sacrifices they endured.
From our founding fathers to our next door neighbors, America is built on the toil and work of immigrants. The United States is a land of immigrants and to be American is to be a part of the American dream we all hope for, a dream built on hard work and shown through success and freedom.
Yet, today the word immigrant is looked down upon and, at times, exclusively associated to certain races and stereotypes. Singling out immigrants by ethnicity, most often individuals of Hispanic descent, is inaccurate just as invalidating the existence and work of another human being by labeling them “illegal” is unacceptable.
Now more than ever we must be cognizant of our counterparts and their stories, rather than generalize and silence them. This is especially true with the potential passage of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would grant certain undocumented immigrants conditional and even permanent residency, and the potential unfreezing and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allowing undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday to obtain a two-year work permit and avoid deportation.
Hearing Vargas, and reflecting on the stories I have heard about my own family, I know that the immigrant story is one of toil and sacrifice — driven by love and hope. Most importantly, it should be a story of pride.
American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in “The Great Gatsby,” “Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Perhaps our past is best left behind, or perhaps it makes us who we are. But regardless we must beat on, continuing on a path of acceptance and striving for understanding.