Recently, I was invited to the White House as media this coming December to join a conversation on cross cultural exchanges for students. When I phoned my mom to tell her the news, I said, "I'm the first one from our family to be invited to the White House."
It was a big life moment. A moment that I wished I could share with my ancestors. The people who came to this country to escape war in southern Lebanon. The people who came to this country for a life of opportunity. The people who had helped hide Jewish friends in Poland just before World War II. They left to make a better life for themselves and their future generations. The people who came to this country for safety and jobs. They arrived in the United States of America as third class passengers in boats. Immigration flows through my veins.
They came here and washed the windows of New York City skyscrapers at great heights. They peddled jewelry in Times Square. They were seamstresses in factories without air conditioning. They worked in bakeries and made deliveries. They repaired shoes. They cut lumber. When the Great Depression hit, they took government hand outs just to survive. They were embarrassed by the patches on their clothes. Their children went on to start businesses, enlist in the military, work for the NY state government and even patched holes in war ships during World War II. I am here today in 2014 because of all of my immigrant ancestors. And because of my great country who valued their life. Immigration flows through my veins.
Today, only because of these opportunities given to my ancestors, I have a private college degree made possible with the help of financial aid from the U.S. government. I've donned a suit and worked on Wall St., among skyscrapers whose windows shined back at me. Windows that were once cleaned by my late grandfather. I've had the opportunity to work for our country's central bank. I've once sat in airplanes on business trips to Europe, reflecting upon my ancestors' third class boat journeys across the atlantic. My husband and I give back and volunteer to programs to help others, here, in the United States and global health programs abroad. I've also volunteered my time in the past to teach English to immigrants at night in Washington, D.C. Immigration flows through my veins.
My American experience is a story of how the hard work of my ancestors along with the help of the government has given me opportunities that my ancestors couldn't have imagined. When I read and see my fellow citizens complaining about how providing green cards for illegal immigrants is unjust or how it will tax our system, I say, "We must find a way." Unless we are full blooded Native American, the majority of American citizens cannot forget that we are here because of immigration. How can we be so forgetful of our roots to not allow the same opportunities that the people who came before us had to the people who have come here today who crave a job? Who crave safety for their families? Education for their families? Immigration flows through my veins.
I am an American, a citizen of the United States of America. I will not forget how I got here or the sacrifices my family and my country men and women have made to keep me safe. I will not forget that my ancestors were welcomed. I will not forget that our government helped my family survive during the Great Depression and assisted with our education throughout the years. I will continue to be grateful for these opportunities and work to give back. I cannot take away the burden of the hard work of life ahead for every immigrant who has come to this country today with nothing but a want for the safety, security, work and education for his or her family. But this morning I realized that I'm in a position where I can use my voice to help his or her plight because I, too, have immigration to this great country in my veins. I am very proud of it. And, I will not let it be forgotten.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."