Article Written By Margaret Aliffi
Friday night members of the Get Related World Team had the opportunity to attend #IAMANIMMIGRANT, a pop-up event in New York City. The event kick-started Immigrant Heritage month and in celebration they served food from all different cultures and hosted a panel sharing stories of immigrants to America. Those in attendance proudly supported immigrants by wearing shirts that said ‘I am an immigrant’ or ‘I stand with immigrants’ while music from all different cultures filled the space.
The stories told by various panelists were all true and highlighted the immigrant experience in America throughout various times in our history. The panel itself was made up actors, activists, and even a local assembly member. The diverse panelists told a series of diverse stories, ranging from a Native American family’s experience being ‘relocated’, to a more recent experience of an immigrant’s interaction with police and ICE agents.
One panelist told her own story of immigrating from Dubai so her sister could have access to life-saving medical procedures but due to mis-filing and clerical errors she and her family were denied citizenship. Faced with the option of leaving and condemning her sister, her family, she chose to stay in America undocumented. She spoke of how hard it hit her self esteem when she realized she couldn’t apply for colleges and felt she had no future. As her story progressed, she excitedly informed the crowd that she had graduated from nursing school two days prior and was working with orphaned children to help provide them with the health care they need.
Assemblyman Michael Blake passionately told his own mothers story of immigrating to New York from Jamaica after her mother passed away while she was a child and her family abandoned her. She became homeless and was sleeping on church pews when a woman found her in the market and offered her a home. That woman ended up sending her to America where she made her way to the Bronx in worked for 40 years in a factory in New Jersey, a factory that ended up giving her adult asthma. Throughout all of that she supported her children and gave them the best lives they could possibly have. She supported her son throughout his campaign and when he won, she felt that pride in him and in herself, knowing that they couldn’t have gotten there without each other.
Other true stories were told by those who had not experienced them, such as the story of a young man who awoke to police demanding entry into his apartment, where his undocumented parents lived with him. Luckily he had a red card that laid out his rights for him enabling him to handle the situation and protect his parents but instead of feeling relief at having done the right thing he just felt scared, not knowing if or when the police or ICE would come back and wondering would the next time end differently.
The feelings in the air that night were palpable, stories from Italian immigrants to those who were brought over during the slave trade were passionately told to the crowd. Throughout the night tears flowed and people laughed as we not only heard the stories of others, but felt them. Stories that aren’t so different from our own. 40% of Americans can trace at least one ancestor back to Ellis Island, we truly are a great nation, not in spite of our diversity but because of it.