white immigrants, a.k.a. americans
“Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, and she together with her maidens walked along the river’s bank; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to get it, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. And, she took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrew’s children.”
Dear Friends Whose Families Immigrated to This country from a White European Country Over a Century Ago,
This morning, I was scrolling through my private account’s Instagram feed and was touched by a post by one of my favorite cookbook/lifestyle authors. She posted a beautiful picture of Our Lady Liberty that she captured from aboard a cruise ship. The post read as follows: "The Lady with the Light at the Golden Door. This phone photo does not do her justice. Chills and hairs on end at the sight. English people in the room next to ours said this is why they made the trip—just to sail past her into New York harbor as so many others have #bucketlist #queenmary2 #proud #statueofliberty"
It was a gorgeous homage. In my opinion, her post was completely non-partisan. However, it sparked 118 comments that told a different story. Many of the comments were from white women who wrote things like the following:
“And a great reminder that the vast majority of us now here are descendants of immigrants, who came as a tempest-tossed, wretched refuse to make a better life!”
“This describes my Danish and German great grandparents. Arrived with next to nothing, trekked the Oregon Trail, worked so hard and built a good life. And they did all legally. Don’t want to be divisive, just sharing my family truth and what it was like for the vast majority of immigrants at that time.”
“Agreed, we needn’t be divisive. If your ancestors arrived more than a century ago as did mine, there were no Federal laws pertaining to immigration. So of course they were legal. Apples and oranges.”
“My husband sailed past her when he immigrated to the US and vowed to respect our country and its laws.”
“Yes and they came here legally.”
“Mine we’re lucky. They came before there were laws.”
“I am from all immigrants! Love diversity! Love learning of different lives and worlds…it would be a sad life without differences.”
My dear white friends: Your story is just as valid and just as important and just as enriching to our land as any other story. I hope that this Fourth of July, you will celebrate your heart out. You have been blessed with an amazing, wonderful story. You can stand beneath our flag, salute Our Lady Liberty, and pledge your allegiance freely without any question as to whether or not this country belongs to you. It’s not something that every natural born citizen or immigrant citizen (legal and illegal) can say. So, celebrate that blessing.
I imagine that it must be very awkward sometimes to sit with that truth. I would guess that many of you may not have even considered that truth—or, if you have, you would rather not think about it. Truth be told, I don’t like sitting with your history in this country either. But there are harder, less important things that we choose to do regularly. In my case, burpees come to mind. Difficult, awkward, and I don’t like doing them. But thank God!—I can.
So this Fourth of July, I am challenging you to do some spiritual burpees in regards to your immigrant journey to this country. The Bible is full of immigration stories. From the very start, God places Adam and Eve in the garden as the indigenous people of Eden. But then, he sends them out to new land that they will have to cultivate by their own hands. The story continues with Cain being sent away to another new land. Noah is sent away aboard an ark. The story continues with Abram who becomes Abraham and whose descendants outnumber all the stars in the sky. But first, he's told to take all he owns and leave his country to go to a new land. And then there’s Moses, who illegally arrived at the palace doorsteps of Pharaoh. He was given full rights as if he was a natural born, Egyptian son. Interestingly, today—right now—there are thousands more like Moses, bobbing amongst the reeds of our borders. We can stand around debating whether they are here legally or illegally, whether they have rights or not. Or, just like Pharaoh’s daughter, we could daringly act on the hurt that we see right in front of us.
We are all immigrants in this great big Story—the Greatest Story ever told. Our stories might be partisan, non-partisan, or apathetic. We can be divisive or inclusive; take a knee or stand in allegiance. Whether we like it or not, all of our stories are woven into the fabric of this democracy—even at its fringes and borders. Your stitch is not more valid than mine, and mine is not more valid than yours. But we need to understand that some of these stitches are stained and covered with blood.
This Fourth of July, we should absolutely treasure our country’s story—that is, we should absolutely treasure our full, unabridged, nasty, vicious and savage story so that we can learn from it and do better. The truth of the matter is that unless your ancestors came from the indigenous, native people of this country, they illegally immigrated here because they never asked for permission to inhabit the land from the native people who already owned it. This isn’t meant to shame you or your ancestors, or your story. I think we wallow in shame because it's a distractor that keeps us from doing the hard work of healing from painful truths. Instead, this Wednesday as you sit beneath a canopy of fireworks celebrating your place in this country, own every bit of your true story, no matter what pain it reveals. Let it humble you. Let it give you a greater sense of gratitude for the complex richness of your story. Then, you will have grace for the stories of others who have come to this country just as tired, just as poor, just as wretched and tempest-tossed—yearning to breathe free, guided by a beam of light, reaching for the same golden door.