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The American Dream as the daughter of immigrants

Juli Moreira

Juli Moreira

Yana Gitelman

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On September 13th, 1991, a family of four from Lviv, Ukraine stood huddled in the Minneapolis airport. Their only remnants of their old country were seven hundred dollars and a suitcase full of books. One year later, another newly-escaped family from Moscow arrived in that same airport with six pieces of luggage. These families shared mixed feelings of fear and  hope, fairly limited English language skills, and levels of determination still unfathomable to me, their daughter. Even though their future looked bleak in that moment, they ultimately prospered in America. It’s humbling to think that if not for this story, I would not have the comfort, safety, or pride of my Jewish heritage that I have today.

My family is only one example of the “American Dream,” but there are many who lack this opportunity and luck. The American Dream, as demonstrated by my parents, depends primarily on motivation–a quality that immigrants have in abundance. In our current political climate, it’s important to recognize that staunchly anti-immigration policies such as Trump’s wall and the “Muslim Ban,” emulate repressive policies of other eras and nations, like those of the U.S.S.R a generation ago. It’s frankly terrifying to see how our government can deny innocent, well-meaning people, similar to my family, the right to pursue a better life in America.

The Soviet Union chastised my family for being Jewish. They were categorized by the Russian government as a nationality and required by law that “Jew” be stamped onto their passports. This fostered overt discrimination, barring them from entry into government institutions and inviting businesses to do the same. They grew exhausted by the rigid boundaries on their careers and socio-political status, so they packed up and left in search of a nation which would suit their ambition. Their journey, from obtaining Visas, to paying for the plane ride and their first few months’ rent, to navigating job interviews, would not have been possible without HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

To their luck, my family all found work within one year of their arrival. My Ukrainian-born father attended the local university on financial aid while my Moscovite mother worked as a Walgreens clerk, simultaneously pursuing her graduate degree. After graduating, my parents moved to Manhattan and labored tirelessly to fulfil their job requirements and keep up with their Native-born, Ivy-educated peers, despite their own degrees coming from lesser-known Minnesota universities. They held onto their native language, religion, and immigrant friends, while still widening their circle to include people from a variety of places, levels of education, fields of work, and worldviews. They’ve remained informed and active citizens, voting at each election, shifting their beliefs as they clash with new people and ideas, and giving back to their community.

I urge you to reflect and learn more about your own family’s history. Learning about my own family’s history has helped me to understand the importance of hard work. For most of us, there was some point in time when one of our ancestors immigrated to America. Perhaps your family emigrated from China or Mexico after the late ‘60s, for example, in which case it was largely due to the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 –an act which abolished the American system that discriminated against migrants of non-European origin. Even after this act, however, there is still much work to be done.

Your life would be dramatically different if not for some politician, administration, movement, or law that has helped the people at America’s core: immigrants. The very quote engraved on the Statue of Liberty which reads “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” proves that we are fundamentally a society of immigrants. We have always been made up of them, have always depended on them for both our economy and a diverse array of perspectives, and yet there has always been some ambivalence and even resentment among native-born Americans on the issue of immigration.

If immigration or the refugee crisis feels distant, or you struggle to sympathize with the people affected, look at the immigrant community around you. If your family has been in America for many generations and you don’t know how you got here, ask your parents. Find your own connection to the immigrants and refugees striving for a better life today, because you can make a difference. Each action will directly affect someone’s life, even if not our own. Regardless of your party affiliation or political beliefs, you should be able to sympathize on a basic human level with those who are struggling.

HIAS, to which I owe my life in America, has rescued roughly four and a half million Jews fleeing violence and persecution since their creation almost 140 years ago, and have recently begun to broaden their efforts to include refugees of any religion or ethnicity. Today they dedicate their efforts to helping Syrian refugees. Their rallying cry: “my people were refugees too,” has never been more relevant than it is now, in the midst of the most devastating refugee crisis since the Second World War. If the United States had opened its doors to the passengers of the S.S. St. Louis in 1939, hundreds of lives in that instance alone would have been saved.

Let’s learn from this mistake. Please consider researching HIAS and volunteering or donating in recognition of the amazing work they do. Our community would not be the same without it and the virtue it upholds. Lastly, spend some time researching your own family’s story and have discussions with other members of this community so that you too can be an advocate and an ally for modern day immigrants.

1 Comment

One Response to “The American Dream as the daughter of immigrants”

  1. Edwin Santos on October 14th, 2018 9:42 pm

    I’m glad the next generation is this informed and thoughtful.

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The American Dream as the daughter of immigrants