My mother was an immigrant and I remember some of the challenges she had to overcome as she forged a new life for herself in America.
A native of Japan, my mother grew up during World War II. She lived through hardships, survived air raids and lost family members. During post-war reconstruction, she found work caring for the children of US military officers stationed in Japan. She eventually met and married my father, an enlisted man stationed at the air base she was working. He brought her to the US when he completed his tour of duty.
As a young child, I remember my mother taking English classes, studying to become a US citizen, learning how to drive a car, and navigating a culture that was different from the one she grew up in. She did all of these things plus care for two little girls and a home!
She was fortunate to have a small circle of Japanese friends that she could turn to for support, companionship and community. They gathered together regularly to talk, eat their favorite Japanese dishes, listen to music from their homeland, and practice traditional crafts.
They often included their children at these get-togethers and this is where I developed my Japanese side. I sampled sushi, tempura, natto, sukiyaki, and more. I listened to Japanese folk tales and learned Japanese songs. I collected and played with kokeshi dolls and learned origami.
These memories resurfaced recently when I saw some lovely handwoven baskets created by Somali women. My employer, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, offers a Somali basket weaving group to connect refugee women with each other through this traditional craft. The craft group brings the women together to socialize and create baskets while reducing the isolation they can experience living in a new culture. It gives them a sense of community within a larger, less familiar community.
The anti-immigrant and anti-refugee platform embraced by our president-elect is disturbing to me. It dredges up hurtful childhood memories of classmates calling me Jap, Chink and Ho Chi Minh. It causes me to recall the time the father of one of my elementary school friends told me he didn’t like Japanese people. And more.
This open backlash is making many in our country–including children–extremely anxious. An acquaintance recently told my partner how worried her preteen daughter is that her Latino friends will be deported. LCS Northwest immigrant and refugee clients have reported being verbally assaulted by strangers. And more.
America is a melting pot of nationalities. My roots extend to Japan and Ireland and, unless you’re Sioux, Navaho or from another Native American tribe, so do yours. It is that incredible mix of human diversity that makes us a unique and great nation, and it is that mix of diversity that will propel us into the future if we embrace it.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Statue of Liberty inscription