As I listen to Donald Trump’s speech at the RNC I feel compelled to write about a personal experience:
I’ve met and helped out an illegal immigrant.
I most likely do it every day but it was specifically brought to my attention in this experience. I work at a food bank, and we accept anyone that can provide an ID and current piece of mail with their Los Angeles address (we don’t require a piece of mail for homeless clients, of which we have a lot, and they get different types of food). A young woman my age applied as a new client; she was Hispanic and was married with young children. She spoke no English and I was embarrassed that my Spanish wasn’t stellar enough to have a real conversation with her.
She made it a point to ask whether being a citizen of the US hurt her chances to receive support from us. She said she also had a friend that wanted to apply but she had just moved to the United States. I told her she and her friend absolutely qualified. We accept and help everyone.
We got through all the necessary information. In broken Spanish, I told her how our food bank works, I told her about the other social services we offer in addition to providing food to our clients, and I showed her additional food banks she could look into. I told her about the LA Parks free lunch program and she delightfully told me she had already taken her family to one of their events. She pulled out her phone and started showing me photos of her children in face paint, enjoying the party with her and her husband, and, of course, getting some free food.
It was at that moment that I understood that she and her husband were trying to give their children the best possible life they could give them and it was in that moment that I felt the most utmost and purest admiration for this woman. I thought it was incredibly brave what she and her husband were doing. I put myself in her shoes; if I was the one from another country with children, would I be able to humble myself, move my young family to a country where it often seems like they don't want me and where I can’t speak the language, and start literally from the bottom just for the chance at a better life?
Being a white, Midwestern millennial it was hard for me to imagine putting myself in that situation. I have been extremely blessed (read: extremely privileged) and I’ve had the opportunity to wait for “the sure thing.” I don’t have to bank on a chance at something… I have the privilege to wait until something is guaranteed. It’s hard to explain why that’s significant, but it’s sort of like this: Let’s say you go to a grocery store and when you arrive there’s only unmarked cans of food on the shelves. A grocery store worker apologizes and says they’re unsure what’s in the cans but they should be getting some new, labeled cans tomorrow and I could return for those. I am well fed, I have a car with gas, and I have time to return so I can. But most of the people that come to the food pantry don’t have the opportunity to return to the store. They’re hungry right that minute or might not have food for their entire family for dinner. They might not have a car or have enough gas to return to the store. They might not have the time. So I have the luxury to return to the store and choose; my clients have to take what they get. Make sense? (I know it’s not to a Jesus-parables level, forgive me, haha).
But it seems like Trump’s America, a country originally built on the backs of immigrants, will not give these new immigrants the opportunity to create the kind of life for themselves that will give them the luxury of options. I’m listening to Trump’s speech and every time he says “Americans” I hear “white Americans.” Every time I hear “families” I hear “white families.” It feels like he’s going to give white America better lives (and I can see how that’s appealing to white people) but it’s going to be at the expense of minority and new Americans and I can’t accept that. I don’t think Trump nor his family gets that there’s social systems in place in the country that don’t allow minority groups to empower themselves and succeed. I mean how could they? They’ve been wealthy white people all their lives. I don’t even think they can see the difference between having those simple opportunities and having to humble yourself to take what you get and work extremely hard for the little you have.
It’s especially disgusting how Trump uses his status as an opportunity to paint these honest, hardworking people as criminals using fear mongering instead of using his resources to meet these hardworking and honest people and really learn how he can benefit and help all Americans, newly arrived or with a long American history, rich and white or poor and colored. I wish we could be responsible and loving Americans that could hold our arms open and say “we want to help because we believe with you we are better.” Because the reality is, we are better with as much diversity and as many people with good morals and values as possible. Trump wants to shut these people out, and that makes me sick to my stomach. Every time he speaks I think about my clients and fear that their lives are about to get harder.
Back to my experience…We got our new client food for her family and she was glowing with gratitude when she left. I wished I could have better expressed how great it was to meet her and how grateful I felt for a chance to help her and her family. I wish her all the best and hope that she succeeds in life, and that she and her children become great Americans. The country needs more people like her. I am so happy to have met her and to have experienced a new and necessary piece of our country.
I hope whoever becomes President in this next year has the opportunity to meet people like my client and understand that we can only be better when we’re welcoming. We’re guaranteed to be better with more great people helping each other and supporting each other through life. It’s time to stop tearing some people down in the interest of building other people up. Every person should have the opportunity to help build their neighbor up. That’s the kind of America I’d like to live in.