I am a teacher and currently on a school break. The week before we let out for “winter recess,” was the week when ICE raids began to take over New York. In response Trump’s promise to “crackdown on illegal immigrants,” his continuing promise to build a border wall and his second attempt at passing a Muslim ban, the nation experienced “a day without immigrants.”
The “day without immigrants” was a protest. It was created to show the United States what life would be like if we were without our brothers and sisters from other countries. It was a day where mothers and fathers did not send their children to school, and where these same mothers and fathers did not go into work. These people were willing to forgo pay for a day, which to many was a huge inconvenience–this is how strong their sentiments were.
I heard a variety of comments about this day from a variety of different people who held a variety of different beliefs. Some stated that these immigrants were, “typically lazy…any day to skip work.” Others stated that this was a stupid day that had no point, slowed work down for others and was selfish. Still others maintained that this day made its point, and indeed, it did.
There are many that lack empathy in this world. If you are someone who thought that this day was stupid and furthered the stereotype of a “lazy immigrant,” then, I’m sorry to say, you are one of them. A part of me understands; if a policy doesn’t directly affect you, then why would you care about it? However, I challenge you to think, do Trump’s immigration policies really not affect you? Or at one time, would they? Empathy.
As a Caucasian woman who was born in this country, blonde, blue eyed, and not a Muslim; I, under the Trump administration may not be directly affected by his policies, but indirectly, I most certainly am. In addition, some of my dearest friends and amazing students will be directly affected; it is for this reason that I speak out.
So even if we operate under the assumption that it will only affect certain people; and not the greater population of the United States; even if we operate the assumption that this day was pointless, we would still be spouting falsehoods.
I am a product of immigrants, as many of us in the United States are. My father’s father came here from Italy when he was a young boy, my mother’s grandparents were able to escape Hungary, Austria, Poland and Russia way before Hitler’s Nazi regime was able to persecute them for the very religion they practiced. I grew up celebrating holidays and traditions that both sides held sacred. My aunt is an immigrant; she came here from China and married my uncle, gave birth to 3 boys; the oldest speaks fluent Chinese. My stepfather is an immigrant from Denmark. He married my mother two years after losing his wife to colon cancer; the same woman he moved to the United States for. He took care of me, when I was in the hospital with Lemierre’s syndrome, and took care of my mother while she fought lymphoma and then breast cancer. Without immigrants, I literally would not be here, and neither with most of us.
Now I know, Trump is not trying to remove legal citizens. I know, Trump only wants to deport those who are illegally, or so he says. However, these are human beings; these are still people with families. Many of these people are law-abiding citizens who came here to escape dangerous and often times deadly situations in their mother countries. I have heard my students tell me that they could not go to school in El Salvador because their parents were worried they would be recruited or attacked by members of MS-13. I have students from India tell me that the water where they lived was so contaminated that they were unable to get any type of reprieve from malnutrition and illness. I have students from Syria who came here escape religious persecution and constant terrorism. When people who are this desperate for a better life, waiting months or even weeks to gather the correct papers and move here could be a death sentence. They were not, as my aunt was, moving here for a job; they were not, as my stepdad was, able to speak fluent English, and they do not, as my mother’s grandparents did, come with a large sum of money and family connections.
On the “day without immigrants,” I noticed smaller classes; as some of my students were not present. I also noticed my local coffee shop was short-handed, the deli next door to my apartment, where they always fill up my water bottle with cold, filtered water was closed. The dry cleaner was closed; the laundromat offered a “do it your own” service that day. In short, my insular, privileged world was rocked. Now imagine, if you will, this was every day, and imagine how immigrants in this country help our communities and societies to function every minute of every hour of each day. Imagine being so desperate to be seen, acknowledged and valued, that you were willing to miss a day of work and probably a day of pay.
When I looked at my classroom that day, noticing a few of my favorites not in attendance, I was sad. These young adults help make me who I am, they make the hallways happy, the teachers smile (or yell), and the cafeteria staff on their toes. Without these kids, I may not have my teaching job, a job I love, and a job I excel at. My immigrant students (or students as I call them) work extremely hard, and are often the students who obey the rules of the school most closely. They are truly and sincerely here for a better life; without them, I don’t know where any of us would be.
We had a day without immigrants, and that day was horrible. Another day without immigrants is another day I don’t want to see.