My family immigrated from the USSR when I was three years old. I had the privilege of growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey – mere miles away from all of the action. While my grandparents, uncles, and cousins lived within a square mile of our apartment, all of our extended family lived across toll lines. Every couple of weeks, we’d pile up in my dad’s Chevy Celebrity and trek through tunnels and bridges effortlessly. In many ways, I took those places for granted. From my ten-story view, I could see The Twin Towers, The Verrazano Bridge, and on fogless days, even The Statue of Liberty.
My fourth grade class went to Ellis Island – so much history, and yet so little realization of what it all meant. Nowadays, whenever I visit (which I try to do at least twice a year), I feel completely at home in Times Square and on NJ Transit buses (which my dad operated for years). I don’t know the streets and roads by heart, but I know who I am when I’m there. Crazy as it sounds, I feel safe within the crowd. My obsession with 24 should tell me otherwise — but I can’t help it.
So this year, my boyfriend’s coming with me, and we’re *hopefully* going to be full-on tourists. We’ll stay with my grandparents and meet up with friends, but for the majority of the time, we’ll be at the Natural History Museum, the Met, the MoMA (aren’t I a trendster), and the Empire State Building. We’ll catch an off-broadway play, and we’ll get to go to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. (Disclaimer: I’ve received an immunity deal from the Evil Eye on any excitement on impending trip mentioned herein).
The last two spots seem particularly timely; amid Arizona’s turmoil with a misguided (to borrow a wise man’s words) anti-illegal immigration bill, it’s sad to think of how our country began and how it presents itself today. As an immigrant myself, I feel so lucky to have been given a chance to grow up in the United States. I’m lucky to be part of the millions of people who’ve been sheltered in these states. Yes, the shelter happened to be acquired legally, but as a child, all you know is that you’re safe, and you’re in good hands. I don’t condone illegal activities, but I don’t think anything is as black and white as Arizona’s legislature is making it out to be. I’ve read SB-1070, or at least I’ve tried to, and it’s very confusing.
I’m trying very hard not to simply jump on the bandwagon. I’ve really tried to think this through, and I wonder how many others have as well. What does this bill really mean – and does it resonate with this country’s long history of sheltering the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses? I think you’ll agree with me that it doesn’t. Not simply because it’s a partisan bill, or a “Republican” and an “Old West” bill – but because it doesn’t feel right. It’s not ethical. It doesn’t highlight the best of our country. There must be a better way to secure our borders without resorting to this. Perhaps the solution is for the State government to slow down and collaborate, and to do so with a more active Federal government. The latter is getting flack for not doing enough to combat illegal immigration – but it had it’s plate full, wouldn’t you agree?
It’s hard to feel like you can make a difference when people in our state government act without consideration for human rights. It’s exhausting, to be honest. I feel so drained just thinking about it. And I’m not even the one directly targeted in this bill (though I’m sure it’ll affect my loved ones and me). I worry. I worry that crime against non-whites will increase. I worry that suspicion and backstabbing will increase. I worry that people who really, truly need shelter won’t get it. I worry that racism has gotten the seal of approval from the likes of Jan Brewer and Russell Pearce.
But, I’m hopeful that with activism, with enough votes, this can be reversed somehow. If not, I feel almost compelled to apologize to the Statue of Liberty and all that it stands for.