Mommies in Black and White

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Valarie Kaur Speech: An Opportunity to Listen, Learn, and Reflect

Immigration is HOT right now. As a blog written in half by an immigrant we are extremely in tune to the rhetoric and current cultural conversations related to the topic.

We don’t speak to every issue, every story, or debate. We try not to judge or spread hate or disrespect by attacking others’ perspectives or ideas. We do, however, encourage our readers to listen, reflect and learn…about each other, about diversity, about ways that you can engage and make a difference in your daily life by being an informed, open and compassionate person.

The video below is a passionate perspective from one side of the immigration debate. It’s worth watching because it provides insight into a life experience, a reality that you might not truly understand – unless you’ve lived it. Jebeh has lived it. Her experience was her own. It was emotional, challenging, heartbreaking and exciting all at the same time.

Every time I listen to Jebeh and open my heart to her experience, I learn and I grow. Every time we can see, truly see the world through someone else’s lens, we become better. We become smarter, stronger, and more empathetic people.

So, I encourage you to watch, to listen, to grow. I encourage you to see an immigration story through someone else’s lens.

WATCH: Valarie Kaur Speech

 

Assume Nothing

Last month I was interviewed for a documentary depicting racial bias and stereotypes in my community. The interviewer asked me what advice I would give to citizens in my community regarding the subject. I shared two words…assume nothing.

I want citizens in our community and citizens of the world to resist their own biases and approach each other as human beings and not as stereotypes. Let me give you some scenarios:

  • When you see my children playing in our yard and they wave to you as you cross the street with your dog, don’t ask them if they live there in a condescending tone…Assume nothing.
  • When I was test-driving at a car dealership the dealer tried to find the hip hop radio stations. I do love my hip hop, but I bet he wouldn’t have found those stations for my white husband… Assume nothing.
  • When I was hired for my dream job someone asked, “how did you ‘swing’ that one?”…Assume nothing.
  • When recognized for accomplishments some people have hinted it wasn’t on merit but because “I was the token black person” in the company…Assume nothing.
  • When we bought our dream house someone questioned, “How’d you get a loan?”….Assume nothing.
  • When I changed my hairstyle some people assumed I was going through an identity crisis…Assume nothing.

I could go on. And on. So many interactions are burdened with racial biases and assumptions. When we all realize the importance of framing a question from a kind hearted, bias-free place our interactions will become less burdened. And, their value will increase exponentially as we break down tensions and barriers that too often characterize cross-cultural interactions.

Instead of asking, “Do you boys live here?” Ask, “Are you little guys new to the neighborhood?” Instead of assuming that because I’m black I like hip hop, ask, “What kind of radio station would you prefer?” Simple congratulations on work well done, a new home, or a promotion can go a long way. On the subject of hair and black women, just commend us for keeping our styles fresh, no identity-crisis intervention team needed.

If you don’t know something, it’s okay to ask. But ask from a place of compassion, free of assumptions. Ask because you care, because you genuinely want to understand. Ask in a way that squashes negative perceptions and allows civility to reign. And, if you have to assume. Assume the best. Always.

 

 

Standing in the immigration line to keep America great.

First time I got my chance to vote.

First time I got my chance to vote.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Jen, I also wanted to take the time to reflect these past few weeks. I thought a lot about my own immigration journey. Immigration isn’t for the weak, downtrodden, or weary. Immigration is a painful, guilt-ridden, and very expensive process.

I’m a proud first generation immigrant. The United States is all that I know because I arrived here at a very young age. I always sounded American. I had a lot of friends and grew up like the average American child. But, dance recitals, sleepovers, and girl scout meetings don’t guarantee your citizenship rights. Unlike other average American children, my life also included a lot of hoops, red tape, immigration attorneys (if we could afford one), and long lines outside and inside the immigration office. Let me paint a picture of my typical immigration employee permit renewal day.


Imagine it’s 5 am on a cold Minnesota winter day and you’ve been waiting in line for nearly an hour outside an office building. Fifty people are ahead of you and you’re patiently waiting for the doors to open at 8am. You hear babies outside in parked cars crying. You’re in line with young children, elderly, and people with disabilities. The immigration officer finally opens the door, and counts us individually while laughing at us under his breath. When the officer counts the last person in front of you, he slams the door in your face and yells at you through the glass that he’s “at capacity” for the day.

You beg and plead with the officer and tell him that you drove three hours from up north to get there. He scoffs and tells you to prove it. By the grace of God, you still have your electric bill with your Duluth address in your purse. He sees it and hesitantly lets you in. Relieved yet? Don’t be. You still have to wait seven more hours until your red number is called. You wait in the cramped basement with the other immigrants trying to “de-thaw.” For seven hours you sit and you watch CNN. You wait with no vending machines and no lunch counters. You wait…until your number is called.

You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. You don’t have time to be angry. After all, you need to shell out $500 in order to be eligible to keep your college job at the mall for one more year. When your number is finally called that day, you get fingerprinted (I still can’t stand the smell of cornstarch) and the photographer who takes your picture for your permit asks, “What do you have to smile for? This isn’t your country” (lightbulb flashes). You get your receipt and drive back up north hungry and tired, but determined not to miss another day of school.


It wasn’t until my junior year in college that lawmakers, like the late Senator Paul Wellstone, changed the laws and got immigrants like myself out of the cold lines outside and gave us appointment notices. The harsh treatment we experienced was still there, but this time by appointment only. Some people make excuses and others say that our system is broken. I say that if this were to happen to Americans there would be an uproar.

Immigrants and refugees have been given a bad reputation. Yes, there are a few bad apples but there are more amazing people in that same line every day. We wait in that line because of fear of persecution from our homeland. We wait in that line with survivor’s guilt. We wait in that line for fear of losing our employment. We wait in that same line as taxpayers and sustainers of the American economy. We wait in that line because we’re trying to bring a loved one over here for safe-haven.

It took me 20 plus years of waiting in that line. It took countless phone calls to lawmakers both statewide and nationally. It took stomaching a flow of racist comments from friends, family friends, a few colleagues, some employers, and some members of Congress … but those comments have become a catalyst for my courage.

I’ll never forget the moment. It was a crisp fall Minnesota day and at thirty years old, I stood in a new line. The voting line. I had my 18-month-old son in his stroller and I remember sobbing tears of joy. People in line were surprised when I said that I had waited 28 years to finally gain my citizenship. I was so happy that I took pictures with my election judge, who also took a picture of me and my son. That voting line was the line I had been waiting for.

I still continue to have hope. If I didn’t have hope then what had I been doing in that cold immigration line for over 20 years? When you hear people in your community, or even a President elect say that immigrants and refugees are hurting the American economy, think about the millions of immigrants and refugees like me. Think about us standing in line and spending thousands of dollars while holding our breath for a chance at our own pursuit of freedom and prosperity – like so many before us.

 

Gratitude in turmoil: Finding peace in a time of uproar

10 Ways Gratitude Can Change Your Life

(photo by David Wagner)

 

 

 

 

 

Again, it’s been a while. The pace of life and daily demands continue to get in the way of writing. But, it doesn’t get in the way of reflecting. I reflect daily, when something doesn’t sit right. When a comment, smile, nod doesn’t feel right or when I notice something beautiful. Practicing reflection takes conscious effort and I don’t always get it right, but I’m trying.

The last month has been charged. Politically. Socially. Spiritually. We all feel it. I’ve watched friendships disintegrate on Facebook. I’ve watched constructive conversations go terribly array. I’ve watched news cycles turn into churning critiques, filled with frustration, fear and bitterness. Once again, many feel helpless, powerless, and disheartened.

It’s not new – this social uproar. It may feel HUGE right now and it is. But, social uproar can be a catalyst for change. For bringing pivotal issues to the forefront. It forces conversations to be had out loud, in vibrant tones. Conversations that may otherwise have been had behind closed doors or in hushed voices.

I’ve sat with all of this for a month now. Watched highly intelligent and passionate people articulate so eloquently their points of view. Watched others rage in fear, pain, and dissolution. I felt it all. Every bit. Every comment. Every heartfelt plea.

I felt it and this is what I want to say. Don’t give up. Reflect. Daily. On the joys in your life, the friendships you’ve built, the passionate, intelligent people around you. See the good – on both sides (of the aisle, issue). Speak up, respectfully. Do good, daily. Our ability to break down the BIG things into small daily reflections and actions will make change.

Regardless of your political or religious affiliation, this season brings hope and light. It’s a time of reconnecting with family and friends. What we also need to remember is it’s a time of respect for and reflection about our true place in all of it. A time to be reminded of our humanness and the humanness of those around us.

Perspectives and passions may differ, but our job is not to change others. It’s to LISTEN to others. To SEE how they see. Only by seeing what others see, feeling what others feel can we truly understand them. In doing so, we build compassion and also insight that can help us share ourselves and our own views more authentically.

My hope is that we can all find a little peace in this tumultuous political and social environment. That we can reflect daily and be grateful for the opportunities we have to connect with others. For me, this past month has required mindful reflection to find gratitude in turmoil and peace in a time of uproar.

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