In the forth grade, we studied Colorado history. That along with the US history taught across all grades was meant to make us good citizens. We were taught about the welcome we received when our families moved westward to make America. Washed-over with these notions of land’s and country’s and Manifest Destiny’s crimes against humanity.
That same year, my mother’s friend Elizabeth was returning to Ethiopia and leaving behind her undocumented status.So at her behest, Mom pulled my sister and I out of school to eat a traditional meal cooked by Elizabeth.This I recall was a thank you for the help my mother had extended to Elizabeth in the year previous. I can still taste that food.
Somewhere in those two events, I learned that America meant welcome to all immigrants. I learned that Colorado called to immigrants as a place where a safe wonderful life could be made.
One of my Kuwaiti students sent me a message this week. She said she hoped we would meet again. Every part of my belief of what America should be (I’m too old to think it ever has been) made me want to extend my hand, to say, “Come visit my country. You a welcome here.”But I stopped. Instead, I had to tell myself the truth. I said, “We will find a way to meet again. I would be joyful to meet you here in my country, but America is not safe for you. Take care of your body and your heart. We will meet again in better days.”
My fourth grade teacher was the daughter of immigrants. For a few weeks in early Spring, she taught an early morning Greek class for us. More than once that year, our classmates were immigrants; we extended welcome to them. I thought that was what citizenship meant. I thought it meant that we welcomed everyone the visitors, those working toward citizenship, those fleeing. I am sorry my country makes you-humans, citizens, documented, undocumented, joyful, full of sorrow, here before 1492, arriving today, and me-unwelcome here.