Our American Life

Nothing more inspiring to me as an American than seeing the promise of America through the eyes of people who desperately want to be here.
05/19/2017 01:26 pm ET Updated May 25, 2017

Picture this: a playground on an unseasonably warm February day. It’s swarming with kids. White kids, black kids, brown kids. Little girls wearing hijab and other little girls wearing sundresses and shorts. They are throwing sand, spinning wildly on a tire swing, running, climbing, slicing the air with sticks. Laughing, playing. Kids being kids.

In that hive of freedom and energy are my own daughters, running and swinging and climbing with the children of a family of Afghani refugees who had just days before moved to the United States and into my neighborhood.

I don’t know much about these new neighbors. I don’t know why they had to flee their home or why it isn’t safe for them to return. All I know is this: They almost didn’t make it here.

Just weeks before they were scheduled to arrive in the US, Trump signed his executive order banning refugees for 120 days.

Even though this family was vetted stringently, even though they’d lived for years in a sanctuary country, even though the kids attended an English-speaking international school where they absorbed American culture like star-spangled sponges, even though they had done everything they possibly could to show their commitment to American values and their desire to become part of our country, their plans – their lives ― were put on hold.

But as we all know, the courts intervened and did the right thing. This family was able to move here, and now they are a part of my community.

And I am so glad they are. Because there is nothing more inspiring to me as an American than seeing the promise of America through the eyes of people who desperately want to be here.

Immigrants in general, and refugees specifically, know something I, to my shame, often forget: the rights and freedoms enshrined in American citizenship are privileges. And I have done nothing to earn them.

I did nothing to earn the privileges of American citizenship – but my new neighbors have. They are the American dream. They are the people who make our country great, because they know what it is to live without the liberty we take for granted. They are the people who remind us that American citizenship is far more than a birthright.

They understand that American citizenship is something worth working for, worth sacrificing, and struggling, and suffering for. Their faith in American opportunity is what nourishes our collective faith in our country.

They are also proof of what, I think, is the greatest beauty and deepest truth of American citizenship: the fact that it is not a limited resource. It’s not something that needs to be hoarded and protected. At the heart of our constitution lies the belief that all men and women are created equal, with inherent dignity and worth that deserve to be protected at all costs. I have no more right to the safeguards provided by our constitution than anyone else – and no one else has any more right to them than I do.

Opening our arms in welcome to people who long to be here, who have worked hard to be here, doesn’t take anything away from those of us who were born here. If anything, it gives us something we tend to overlook – an appreciation for what we have, and the desire to make it even greater.

So I will nurture this relationship with my new neighbors. I will work to make them welcome. And I will be fortunate to do so, because being part of their lives means I get to share the experience of keeping America’s greatest covenant – that ours is a land of opportunity and equality for all. That even though there are those who believe we should guard our freedom, that we should trap it behind walls and block it with bans, they can’t do anything to extinguish the fire of the promise of America burning in the hearts of millions of people across the globe.

CONVERSATIONS