In May of 2008, a dream came true for me. I’d always wanted to visit The Big Apple, to see what all this talk about it being a city filled with “electricity” meant. As a younger girl who watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve with my parents, I wondered what Times Square was really like. Could all those people really course the streets as a river of moving heads? That spring, I was about to visit New York City as a 32 year old Native American/fourth generation European immigrant, a native born American citizen.
Several friends eagerly and generously welcomed and hosted me during my visit to New York. One friend in particular vowed to show me as much as possible in the short time I was there because in New York, a 10 hour tour is still just a taste. We ate a lot, tasting everything from Cuban to crepes and sushi, an incredible progressive dinner throughout the city. We dodged taxi cabs, darted through the streets, and rode the subway. I was terrified and excited, wide-eyed and skeptically alert. I fell in love with the city like a girl who stumbles over herself in an instant crush. My heart eloped into its light and energy within a few hours of the 25 hour trip I will never forget.
As part of the tour, my friend took me to visit Ground Zero in the Financial District. It was about 1:00am by the time we reached the downtown side of Manhattan. We had a conversation with a guard there like the kind of talk one has with beloved Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving, warm and reminiscent of days gone by. The guard and my friend recounted the events of the day the World Trade Center was attacked, their first-hand accounts told mostly with their eyes and quiet, kindred understanding of one another between brotherly salutations. No one else was around, it was solemn in the District that night. We went into our business office that overlooks the huge hole in the ground where the WTC used to stand, just south of our current office space. The still printers, my country, my immigrant friend and the earthy fracture that brought our nation together unfurled my unknowing self from ignorance and deepened our brilliant friendship that spans national origin. My soul began moving toward a humility known only by those who bend a knee to their own shortcomings. I was a fresh immigrant in New York City that night. And it was electrifying.
Many great friends from all over the world unknowingly teach me of the blessings I was born into as a native-born American citizen. My parents taught me to love my neighbor even if and especially when he speaks in a different tongue or traveled many miles to know the freedoms I know. My friends demonstrate through hand and heart what it means to be an American. This friend, originally from Mexico City, and his beautiful wife open their home to me when I visit New York because we are family…y somos familia. I’m so lucky, so rich.
There are lots of ideals, values, and judgments about immigration. There are also lots of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and misjudgments. It’s a serious national issue which requires many smart people leading our country to consider complex nuances and deeply embedded challenges and opportunities to reach a sound solution. It’s not easily solved like a Rubix Cube on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
For me, immigration has many names and stories. Patriotism. Pride. Opportunity. Courage. Family. Sacrifice. Friendship. Dreams. America. Alberto.
Happy Memorial Day, especially to my dad and all the other service people who honor and protect the ideals of the United States of America that all men are created equal, worthy of liberty and opportunity. It is my hope that we can begin to solve the global immigration challenges we face by building bridges within their own neighborhoods and communities through authentic, caring friendships with people who come from all over the world. Many have stories of adventure, dreams, and sacrifice all cast to the heavens with the hope of a life rich in security, brotherly love, health, education, and opportunity.