I’m an immigrant, and now I know what that means

I can’t begin to describe how comforting it is to have a home in a foreign land, and be secure in knowing you are safe there. Objectively, we were completely fine before we got to this apartment—we were living in an awesome Airbnb with truly fabulous hosts who couldn’t have been more welcoming, we had plenty of money, a smartphone that kept me in touch with family, translated every sign I couldn’t understand, an iPad to keep Maddie and Ada entertained when I was at a total loss, ready access to food, all the incredible infrastructure of Oslo to take us wherever we wanted, and so much more. Still, all day yesterday, I felt unsettled, on edge, wondering at each moment whether I was doing right thing for my family.

More than that, I’m in a country where I’m clearly wanted. The government welcomes immigrants Everyone is super friendly. All of the immigration officers and officials we’ve met throughout this process could not have been more helpful. Though I doubt anyone mistakes us for Norwegians, our whiteness lets us blend in to this country that I don’t have to worry on the subway whether someone will harass us, or even fear that we are being judged as we go about our day.

Still, this has been hard—Much harder than I expected. Obviously some fo that it due to the Diana’s mom’s illness, and Diana needing to rush home to be with her. But right now, living in a foreign country feels so much different than just being a tourist in one. As I said yesterday, I often feel alone and unsure about how to solve even the simplest of problems (today’s victory: I was able to load all of our remaining bags in a shopping cart that wasn’t locked up and wheel them to the elevator of our apartment, saving us from making multiple trips. Today’s challenge: how the hell do I get internet in this place?).

I often think about Maddie and Ada and what they must be feeling in this adventure. They seem to be having a grand time, thanks in large part to how much fun they had with our host family. Aside from Maddie’s nerves about riding the subway, it’s also clear they feel safe, and I feel so grateful as a parent that I can provide that for them.

All of the experiences over the past couple of days have put the news back home in a much starker perspective, and what it must be like to be unable to provide safety for one’s children. Before I left, I was horrified by the way in which our government is treating immigrants of all types—from the administrations’s efforts to cut back on the legal immigration that has been the heart of so much of our nation’s success, the disdain and indifference we’ve shown toward refugees and asylum seekers that flies in the face of basic decency, to all the ways our administration works to persecute undocumented immigrants and most heartbreakingly, the ways in which our administration is traumatizing the youngest children by tearing them apart from their families. All of this on top of a systematic effort to fear monger the populace against the (non existent) immigration “threat”, stigmatize them as others and create a culture that such a hostile culture that somehow causes immigrants to feel so miserable that they “self-deport.” It’s inhumanity at it’s worst.

Now, I imagine myself, what would I have have done if while we were at the police station, an officer had taken my daughters, and not given me any information about how to contact them? When we just passed customs and were making our way out of the airport, Ada was playing around fell down on a moving walkway and couldn’t get back up, and she was close to the end, so I thought she might hurt herself (I had walked too far ahead with most of our bags). That feeling of panic as your child is screaming in pain—it was searing. Luckily a stranger was very close to her. Luckily, Ada was fine. I can’t imagine what I would do if we had to experience even one millionth of what many of the families crossing our border have been subjected to.

I also think of what separates me from those families—just a series lucky breaks that I had zero control over. I was fortunate enough to be born in the United States. Lucky enough to be born to parents to sacrificed a lot for me and my sister, who prized our educations, and gave us a significant leg up in the world, even though we were solidly working class and neither of our parents attended college. I’ve hit a thousand more lucky breaks along the way that put me here, in a comfy couch in Norway, having breezed through legal immigration, with nothing to fear. And though I certainly feel like I’ve worked hard and suffered some for everything I have, I would be kidding myself to think that my hard work is anything close to what many of the poorest immigrants have endured. Their hard work and suffering make mine pale by comparison. Really, is there any doubt when I’m complaining yesterday about walking a few kilometers through an air conditioned train station, and some immigrants are walking across entire countries, with their children in tow? I can’t begin to imagine the work, determination, resilience and hope it must take to persevere through the challenge of immigrating to the United States and seeking asylum.

If it is just luck that separates us, then we must do everything we can must advocate for an immigration policy that is humane—one that doesn’t go out of its way to add to the suffering of those trying to find a better life in the United States. A policy that doesn’t inflame the worst of out prejudices with talks of rapists, murders and overblown street gangs, and one that doesn’t rip apart families and traumatize children just to discourage more people from trying come here. We must be better than this.

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