It was about 5:30 a.m. The sun was rising, breaking through the darkness with commanding sunlight. On some mornings, the African sun can be incredibly piercing. There was already a long queue when I arrived at the American Embassy in Accra, Ghana. I joined the line for the long wait until the embassy offices were to open at 9:00 a.m. You may ask, "Why 5:30 a.m.?" There are all sorts of superstitious theories about getting in early, and so I arrived early for my second appointment, having been declined a visa at my first appointment.
As I stood in line outside of the embassy in the early morning blazing sunlight, there was a sudden loud shout: “Praise the Lord.” Many of those in the line responded, “Alleluia.” In my utter amazement, I turned round to see who it was that shouted “Praise the Lord.” But before long, this person had made same proclamation about three or four times. He then proceeded to pray for all who were seeking visas to the United States, preached, and then took an offering. I was stupefied. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It may be that, because I arrived at about 9:00 a.m. for my first appointment, I missed the spectacle; the preacher had already left. During the offering, every single person in the line - including me - gave an offering with the hope and prayer that their application for a visa would be granted them. I was lucky at my second try, but I don’t know about all of the others who had an appointment at the embassy that morning.
Over the past several months, we have heard stories upon stories of people walking hundreds of miles to get to the United States. One of the moving stories was the tragedy of a father who attempted to swim the Rio Grande River with his daughter; both drowned. We have also heard stories about immigrants who have been detained at the boarder, some separated from their families, and some who have had to deal with some of the harshest conditions. Some children were asked to choose between mother and father!
I am an immigrant, and I identify with every single person who desires to reach this great country to seek a better life for himself, herself and their families. Do I believe people need to come in through the most appropriate and legal way? Yes, I do. Do I believe that the border should be porous? No, I do not. I believe in the rule of law and, to an extent, what immigrants like myself flee from has been the lip service that our political leaders pay towards the rule of law. This lip service has meant that our home countries have become poorly-run, our societies appear broken, devastation surrounds us, limited opportunities rob many a bright and intelligent person of decent jobs and advancement, while corruption denies the incentive to serve.
I can hear the cry of a little boy or girl who sits on their father’s shoulder, or being carried by a mother, or walking all these miles towards the United States. I can feel the anguish of a young man or woman who has graduated from school, and harbors the desire to work, yet can't find none. I can see the fear on the faces of people whose basic security has been compromised by unruly gangs roaming their cities and neighborhoods. I can hear the silent groans of a mother or father who can’t afford to protect or feed their children. It is heartbreaking!! In response to all the hopelessness that surrounds them, they flee by walking north. We cannot minimize the desperate nature of their walk to the southern border of the United States.
For me, that walk is akin to the desperate journeying of Europeans to the coast of this great land. They, too, were fleeing from wars, diseases, religious intolerance, political conflicts and socioeconomic conditions that had made life a little unbearable. They too, were looking for a place where they could start anew, a place where they can start afresh, building new communities and lives for their children. Thank God they succeeded in building this great country, not be themselves alone, but with the sweat and labor of people from Africa who were forcibly brought to these shores.
For me, the important issue is, whether our ancestors journeyed here on Mayflower, Brookes (Slave ship), steamships, planes, or by foot, one of the values we have all learned about America - the shining city on the hill with its light like the morning sun which breaks into our darkness - is one of welcoming the immigrant stranger and offering him or her, the opportunity to contribute to the building of this wonderful human story.
Nowhere has this idea been captured more poignantly than by the words chiseled on a plaque, and installed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
For me, this is a testament to who we are, what our story has been, and the values we hope to offer to the world.
As I wrote this piece, I was reminded of a journalist of Somalian descent who immigrated to Canada as a refugee. She returned back to Somalia, and used her camera to capture moments of beauty that tell of creation’s story - the human story. She was, unfortunately, killed by terrorists - the very people the fear of whom turned her and many others into refugees.
I am an immigrant, and so I do have a story to share. You may not be an immigrant yourself, and so may not have an immigrant story to share. But it is possible that your ancestors may have been immigrants as well, and that they too may have had their own story, some of which may be familiar to you. Or you may know an immigrant who has shared with you their personal immigrant story. A common thread which runs through an immigrant story is the desire for a better life for one’s self, and for the family they love.
I believe there’s nothing more uplifting than a story that tells of the desire to live a better life - an immigrant story. I can only hope that you share similar sentiment.