Mommies in Black and White

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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.

A Thank You Letter Leads to a Powerful Gift From J.T Brown

JT Brown Jersey

This past February I posted a Thank You letter to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s right winger J.T Brown. Much to my surprise, my post went viral. Mr. Brown himself even reached out to our family. He sent a very heartfelt and inspiring letter to my sons. His words of courage and understanding in the sport of hockey will continue to guide my children.

J.T Brown also sent our sons autographed jerseys because, as he said, he is their fan as well. My boys were so excited that J.T Brown sent them a letter and jerseys. Our oldest exclaimed, “I can wear this my whole life time!” My husband couldn’t help but to point out the irony, “Leave it to my Liberian wife, who hates the cold and has zero experience in hockey to connect with a professional hockey player.”

Pure Joy #JTBROWN

Pure Joy #JTBROWN

In Liberia we say, “Sharing your blessings with others will come back to you and the generations after you.” J.T Brown, your generosity to our family will bless your family for generations to come. You’ve made this Liberian Hockey mom proud beyond measure!

God Bless,

Jebeh

Taking a Stand: Athletes, Voices, and the National Anthem

I’ve given it a couple weeks to sit. Sometimes I like to just let ideas stew – mix, absorb, penetrate, and reform again as something more holistic and refined. I’ve wanted to comment, to jump in, to make a point, but I don’t think I was ready.

A few week ago, Colin Kaepernick started gaining attention for his protest demonstration during the national anthem at an NFL game. The story has continued to progress with more athletes joining in the protest and in turn more responses and opinions shared on national and international media. Interestingly, Megan Rapione’s attempt to kneel in solidarity with Kaepernick was thwarted by the Washington Spirit ownership. Another demonstration of power structures determining which voices can be heard?

I don’t want to dig into the politics of it all, but as a sports fan, I want to point out the immense power that professional and collegiate athletes have. They have the power to change the conversation, to call attention to issues that we should all be concerned with, to share their voice and the voices of so many like them.

Whether we agree with their methods or not, we must at least recognize that athletes, like all of us, are whole people. They can’t and shouldn’t shed parts of themselves when they step into their role as athlete. While the professional atheletics system operates in a way that positions athletes as commodities, as “stock” to be traded, developed, bought and sold, they are actually living, breathing humans. They are people with real lives and real experiences both on and off the playing field.

As we’ve pointed out many times in this blog, you can’t understand someone else’s point of view, perspective or version of reality until or unless you have walked in their shoes. Until you have experienced life as they experience it – day in and day out. That goes for everyone, including our military – many of whom have taken offense to the anthem protest, and our professional athletes – many of whom have been on the front lines of race relations and issues in their own communities.

My thoughts might still be disconnected and confused regarding this issue. But, in the end I believe in freedom of speech – the right to a voice and the power that comes with a collective voice. I believe in using the platforms available to you to project your voice. To fight for the things you believe in. We all should. If we don’t, we are seriously undermining the values upon which our United States government was formed.

So, If I was to encourage anything in those who are reading, it would be to encourage others. Support athletes like Kaerpernick, Rapinoe, and J.T. Brown in their quest to open dialogue and have honest and true responses to controversial issues. They are not, as athletes, commodities with a single purpose. They are people, with experiences, perspectives, and knowledge that can reach so many and hopefully influence others along the way.

As a Bulldog alum and former Bulldog athlete, I want to end with a shout out to J.T. Brown. He used his voice to bring perspective to a controversial stance by the coach of the USA Hockey at the World Cup, John Tortorella. Brown’s approach and ability to articulate the idea of perspective was powerful and spot on and quite frankly probably something few in that particular audience (hockey) had considered before. His willingness to speak-up, to use the platform he has as a professional athlete gives me so much hope. Hope that little by little people will listen, open their minds and hearts, and slowly but surely change.

 

 

 

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