Last summer I spent the better part of ten days in Ethiopia with my heart in my throat and my hand on my chest fighting overwhelm. It was my first trip back since my family immigrated here when I was two. En-route back to the states, a stranger at the airport commended me for going back to my first home and asked “what did she tell you?”
My trip to Ethiopia was a powerful and profound experience that I’ll be reflecting on and writing about for years to come. I’m changed, though not in ways that I would have expected. Growing up, I always assumed I’d go to Ethiopia with the intention of finding myself. A quest to the land of my Ancestors in search of definitive answers and reassurances that would pull me back together after America broke me in ways I was only starting to realize. And to some extent, I found what was looking for. I saw myself reflected everywhere I went. In the valleys, in the cities, in the trees. In the people, in the music, in the breeze.
But I was only able to recognize that reflection, because of everything that came before those moments.
The truth is that I managed to find myself, to learn myself, and to begin to really heal myself, while here in America. I managed to hear the whispers of my heart above the noise of who and what I could be while here in America. To stare down my insecurity, my pain, and my worth and decide that one doesn’t negate the other while here in America. To watch my parents struggle and navigate unfamiliar territory with the hope that my life could host new dreams — and then to have them exasperatingly look on as I stubbornly stepped into my own unknowns, all here in America.
Forgoing certainty for the chance to fly.
With the hope that my struggles might carve out new skies.
It frustrates them to no end but can you blame me? Look who raised me. My family’s journey to America 28 years ago was an act of love and faith orchestrated by warriors. My parents have taught me what it means to be resilient and generous, brave and strong. To put it all on the line for someone else’s benefit. I know no other way of being. Our experience is shared by more immigrant families than we could ever begin to account for. Note that I say families and not just children.
We’ve found a way to hold out hope for the DREAMers - but what of the parents that taught them everything they know? Surely if we can see them, surely if we can advocate for them, then we can find it in ourselves to recognize how much they are shaped by the love that brought them here. Surely we can find it in ourselves to honor that love with the compassion and the generosity that it deserves.
We are blessed to be in the company of this kind of love.
And we find ourselves with an opportunity to let it change us - to let it rewrite our understanding of what it is to live and love on this land.
“America first,” they callously claim — and yet America is merely a bystander of what’s being done in it’s name.
The cruelty underlying anti-immigrant sentiments is not of America. The land doesn’t discriminate. The land supports and nourishes and homes. The land provides and shelters and holds.
The only distinction between myself and the immigrants currently facing or fearful of deportation are pieces of paper. Words written on trees the land gave us used as an instrument of control. We insist that we are a country of laws but the truth is the land predates those selectively applied laws, too.
The truth is that the individuals attempting to enforce anti-immigrant policies are themselves the decedents of immigrants.
Every single one of them.
To pretend as if that’s not the case is to feed a fallacy rooted in white supremacy and selective history. Their inability to relate stems from their refusal to embrace the totality of who they are. For if they did, they would recognize themselves in the same people that they claim indifference, disregard, and animosity towards. We cannot force them to see our humanity, but we can continue to ask them: what happened to your own?
We can understand that at the heart of what ails humanity, is an obsession with perceived scarcity forged from the conviction that loving you somehow TAKES from me. The belief that there isn’t enough to go around has falsely convinced us that your well being is fundamentally at odds with my own. But the Earth? The land around and beneath us? It knows nothing of such scarcity. Look at the flowers and the mountains and the seas — look at the extravagance of a sunset on any given day and try to convince me that life itself justifies such behavior. You can’t because it doesn’t. There are seasons of challenge and change but life inevitably and definitively finds a way.
And so here, too - we find ourselves faced to reckon with an America that is, and an America that could be.
An America that grasps for something outside of itself, versus an America that simply becomes. An America that simply allows. An America that refuses to abandon, or deport, or dehumanize ANY ONE standing firm in the knowledge that a life built from scarcity, and security obtained through fear and division, will always remain decidedly insecure.
Because security forged in scarcity will always leave us fighting to maintain claim over what we perceive as ours. Never at home with what we claim to have, or who we claim to be.
Perpetually lying to ourselves.
When the land does no such thing.
When the land teaches us a different way rooted in a truth that urgently continues to insist on our attention. Promising us a path towards something else. Demanding that we ask ourselves who we are and that we respond in kind:
That it is time for America — to BECOME.