As I stood listening to Elizabeth Warren alongside thousands of others at the Families Belong Together rally at Boston City Hall, I started thinking, “How in the hell did we get here?” A question that sadly I ask myself a lot these days. I’ve never really understood the whole hatred against immigrants thing, since the neighborhood where I lived when I first moved to New York as a kid was virtually a melting pot.
I lived on Riverdale Ave in Yonkers, N.Y. We lived in one of the brownstones that were all connected to each other, and though the majority of people who lived in those buildings were black, the rest of the neighborhood was racially mixed and most of the businesses were owned by people who had came to this country and built their lives in the neighborhood. There was the Spanish store down the street that sold penny candy and had been on Riverdale for years. Across the street was the Jewish deli, whose owner used to perform magic tricks whenever me and my kid brother went in with my mom. I went to school with kids whose parents who came here from Syria. The list goes on and on.
I know the picture I just painted seems like a Norman Rockwell poster, but when your 10-years-old the world seems a little different. We’re taught in school that we are indeed a nation of immigrants, that the best thing about America is our diversity, and yet watching everything that’s been going on these last few weeks tells a different tale. I’ve heard more misinformation spread about immigrants than I care to hear, but the hatred still comes. My favorite untruth is that immigrants come over here and steal American jobs. I always want to answer that with, “Oh you mean the fast food service jobs that pay $8 an hour, or clean toilets, or pick apples on a farm or any of the jobs that keeps places running while you make $60,000 a year to sit in an office and troll Facebook all day? Those service jobs are too much for you, huh?” I also roll my eyes a little when people try to convince me that the immigration battle has nothing to do with race. Of course it does. People will deny it, but this is about the continued oppression of brown and black people and we need to admit that.
My old neighborhood Riverdale is a highway now, all those people that were there when I was a kid are gone. I can only hope that America can get back to being that melting pot before it is gone, too.