Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Aren't We All Immigrants?

edited to add:  I've already gotten good feedback/pushback from a friend at church, challenging me on this notion that we are all immigrants.  That's what I'm looking for!  Help me think this through -- please feel free to leave respectful comments, even (especially) if you I'm headed in a wrong direction!

This coming Sunday is the twentieth anniversary of the death of my mother, who was an immigrant, and whose story I have been feeling compelled to tell lately (it's a great story!).  This coming Sunday is also the first of two Sundays for which there is no plan for adult Sunday school, due to a cancellation of the class that had originally been scheduled (I serve as the Director of Christian Education at my church, Old First Reformed, so filling this void falls to me, lucky me...)  These two facts have me thinking about how I could both tell my mother's story and have something to offer at Adult Forum ....

So I have an idea that keeps swirling around in my brain, but won't quite cohere.  I'm thinking about how much more likely it is for us to care deeply about an issue if it touches us personally.  And as I think about my mom, and her immigration story -- which is also my immigration story -- I keep thinking about the ways that we are all immigrants.  Right?  Every one of us has a story about how our families came to this land.  Some of them are stories of men and women seeking opportunity and hope.  Others are stories of people fleeing persecution.  Still others are stories of ancestors brought here forcibly as slaves.  Some of us know more about our stories than others of us, but every family story ultimately takes on mythic proportions, every family story is both real and imagined.  Indeed, it seems to me that if this land has a creation myth, that myth is an immigration story!  Even Native Americans have immigration stories, albeit ones that likely must be mostly imagined because they are so ancient.  Still, doesn't it highlight even more how much immigration is this land's creation myth, if we think of even Native Americans as having come from some other place?   If we see that even peoples who have been here for millennia are immigrants too?  Well, this is where it's still sort of vague in my mind, but somehow, it seems to me that by telling our immigrant stories -- all of our immigrant stories -- we highlight the absurdity of singling out the most recent immigrants among us as "illegal."

I even want to say -- and this is where it's still really fuzzy -- that somehow, if we all document our status as immigrants, doing so somehow compels us in a way that is more immediate and urgent to stand in solidarity with those who are supposedly "undocumented."  I say supposedly, because of course, every immigrant has a story that should be heard, that we should care about, that should be -- and can be -- documented.  I keep playing in my mind with the word "document"...

As I said, I'm not sure where I'm going with this.  But for starters, I was thinking about telling my mom's story -- that is, my story -- at church on Sunday in the Adult Forum, and then trying to figure out ways for everyone else to tell their stories too.  And because I'm a writer, I was thinking of trying to get folks to write them down.  And because I'm a blogger, I was thinking maybe I would find a way to share them  more widely ... I haven't figured it all out yet, but stay tuned.

And let me know what you think....


Lilian said...

Wait! No comments? (oh, ok, in the edit you mentioned you'd already gotten feedback).

Of course I really <3 this post because this is a subject near and dear to my heart, my immigration experience, my "undocumented" friends and acquaintances and all. Oh, and I'd LOVE to hear more about your mother and her immigration story.

The immigrant/expatriate experience is something very very strong that those who didn't experience first hand cannot claim to understand and know -- that's why I agree that strictly speaking, saying that "we're all immigrants" is not accurate.

Ultimately, though, in the melting pot that is this country, most people descend from immigrants. Well, I have to go now, but I hope more people contribute to this discussion.

Eric said...

I think this sounds like a great idea. I'm all for getting people to think in stories, rather than soundbites. Stories are compelling, which of course has the potential to cut both ways, but they also make everything that much more real.

Anonymous said...

I do not have a immigrant history to speak of, though i'm sure it is there. ( I just do not want to make something up for the sake of argument. )

For me, the lesson to be learned here is not in the correlation to our own relatively distant immigration story, but to the very real incidents of exclusion we have all felt, and may experience still.

The United States is a clique-y high school and Arizona is the cool kid's table. Their judgement and derision of "outsiders" is their way of trying to hold on to their status.

So what happens in the typical outsider hazing situation? The outsiders play along, "pay their dues", and are eventually accepted - whereupon the cycle starts over. The "insiders" power lies solely in what the outsiders perceive as the other's higher status - what they *want* to be. But what happens if the outsider does NOT want what is on the inside have? The insider's power is gone! Queue the social-status-in-freefall drama.

Would the same scenario not ring true with immigrants? Especially immigrants who are slow or entirely resistant to assimilation to everything the "natives" hold to be dear. The natives are freakin' the f*ck out! What's happening in Arizona is every bit as pathetic as it is horrific.


hollymac said...


I tried to post once and FB ate it, so I'll try to post again.

I love what you've written, and I feel it. It doesn't seem "fuzzy" to me ... maybe b/c I'm into feminist and other theories that place our marginalized peoples at the center and act and think from there? Or maybe b/c you and I are on the same "page" with the immigration concept?

I'm interested to learn more about your experiences with this question and to hear your mom's story, your own, and those of the people at your church. Plus, I'm especially hopeful that this will become a giant, grassroots project to "document" the stories of all kinds of immigrants from all over the U.S. and around the world.

Dream big ;o)

Mahalo & Aloha,