I’ve said it before, but I truly believe that our understanding of the political world is defined by our day to day encounters.
Back in the summer of 2013, my friends and I went out for a late lunch in Jackson Heights. We had originally planned on dining at a fancy restaurant uptown, on Broadway, in Manhattan, but as our tummies growled, we decided to skip the ten extra stops and landed on 74th St. And anyone who lives in Queens knows that walking around 74th St. can offer an experience similar to crowd surfing – if you allow yourself to salsa at 2pm. But my tummy was grumbling louder than the honking cars, and the smell of samosas, enchiladas, and dumplings made me even hungrier.
As we turned the corner on Roosevelt Ave., a yellow cab driver moved in to the bike lane, hitting a pizza delivery bike rider. The cab driver did not stop to check on the bicyclist and casually drove away, as the now fallen bicyclist got lost in a crowd of people. We rushed over to the bicyclist and realized that he was severely injured. There were gushes of tears running down his face and he was holding on to his right leg, cradling back and forth on the sidewalk. His black bike was bent from the back, the wheel curling in, and the cheese from the pizza slices was dripping and sticking to the pavement. Our first response was to offer to call 911. I had noted the cab’s plate number, and I offered this information to the delivery person. We reassured him that we would wait. Through his broken English he communicated that he was not interested in pressing charges. We told him that we could at least call an ambulance. He needed medical attention. He declined that, and said that he was okay. He kept repeating that he was okay… We stood there for a few more minutes, until he got up and limped away with his bike. I genuinely couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t at least want us to call an ambulance. After all, the police and ambulance services are designed to help people. Right?
The answer to that question is not clearly black and white. Some people fall into a grey area, slipping through the fingers of our judicial system. Unfortunately, some of us don’t qualify for protection because our legal status, or skin color, or ethnicity dictates the scale of how well we are treated. Because often prejudice and personal bias dictates bureaucratic actions. When those stereotypical views are significantly accepted by a society (“immigrants steal jobs,” “Muslims are terrorists,” “Latinos are criminals”), they begin to seep into the practice of policy and law.
I came to realize over time that the injured cyclist was probably an undocumented citizen, which is most likely why he refused to press charges or even seek medical attention. As of 2017 that there are approximately 12.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and despite Trump’s claims that they are “animals,” “criminals,” “rapists,” and “terrorists,” most undocumented immigrants are really just citizens in the United States lacking legal status. The war on immigrants dates back to the 1960s and each wave of immigration since brings profound new concerns, usually by immigrants of older generation. Ironic, right? That someone who escaped famine, or war by migrating to the U.S. might turn around to prevent others from doing the same.
The truth is America is a nation built on the backs of immigrants. Each individual residing within the U. S., with the exclusion of the indigenous, is either an immigrant, or has ancestors that were immigrants. And despite popular beliefs, immigrants do not come to this land to “steal jobs” or live on welfare. In fact if you are illegal, you don’t even qualify for welfare! You do, however, qualify for paying taxes. I think instead of making it more difficult to enter this country, and reside in it, we should be working to make room for individuals escaping famine, war, or a lack of a freedom. And there should be easier access to human resources despite legal status, so when you’re hit by a car and injured, your biggest concern is your health, not your citizenship status.
In other words, America is like a concert crowd. Whether you got here before the “show” started or midway, we’re all here for similar reasons, to love, have fun, and survive. And we carry each other. As the child of an immigrant, I know, life is already hard, and being an immigrant just makes it harder. My parents moved here with three daughters hoping to give us bigger opportunities through education. I can’t imagine building a life here, surfing through a sea of people from different places, with different beliefs, only to turn around and start banning people from attending this great show. American citizenship should not be about where you come from. It should be about where you are going.
Jackson Heights, Queens, New York
I am the soil my parents kissed
Before they boarded the plane
The salty tears that rushed down their faces
Still gushes through my veins
I am the illegitimate child of two nations
Neither country wants to claim
Too American for the motherland
And to America I am foreign
I am the whispers that echoed in rooms
When my mother spoke her native tongue
And I am the blood and sweat of a father
Who kept three jobs to make sure there was food on the table
I am the heartache of my father
Who couldn’t pay for a flight back when his brother passed away
I am the infinite sparkle of gold
From the ring my mother sold
To pay for my siblings’ and my
I am every sacrifice
I am every fear
Every ambition and every dream
The American Dream
– Sunmbul Ahmed