Breaking news: my grandparents were animals. At least according to President Donald Trump.
To clarify: my maternal grandparents were Scottish immigrants. My paternal great great grandparents were Irish immigrants. Yes, “right off the boat”, as they say. I am proudly descended from immigrants, people our 45th president considers “animals”.
Like most of the immigrant population of the early 20th century, my ancestors were brave, hard-working people, who left their beautiful countries to pursue fruitful lives in the United States. The steamship crossing was not easy; they didn’t travel first class. With nothing more than a suitcase in hand, they joined the huddled masses at Castle Garden and Ellis Island and ventured into a totally unfamiliar culture and land. Men and women alike eked out a living as laborers, factory workers, gardeners, police officers, and custodians. They raised their children as best they could. Due to poor medical care, some of their offspring didn’t live more than a few days. Both my grandmothers lost a child, as did my paternal great grandmother. Life was difficult for my ancestors. They persevered, and because they did so, the ensuing generations enjoyed better lives. I am who and what I am because of my immigrant ancestors. I am grateful to them. If I can be one iota as strong, brave, and diligent as they were, I will be richly blessed.
Though President Trump’s remarks at a roundtable discussion in California on Wednesday, May 16th, 2018 were focused on illegal immigrants (my ancestors arrived legally in New York City), I take issue with the metaphor.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” President Trump said of illegal immigrants.. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Referring to human beings, “illegal” immigrants or otherwise, as “animals” is a dangerous practice; a president who cavalierly categorizes immigrants as such is shameful. This is not about the undocumented. It’s about human dignity and respect. It’s about letting the world know Americans respect people different than themselves. Immigrants are not animals. They are simply people from other countries living their lives the best way they know how. Isn’t that what we all do?
I will never forget my grandfather telling me that when his ship entered New York Harbor, he thought the Statue of Liberty was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He trusted that the United States would embrace him and treat him fairly; he believed Lady Liberty’s words: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Tired, poor, tempest-tossed...these words are not synonyms for “animals”. Immigrants provide the backbone of this country and deserve respect. Period.