Liminal lives: the immigrant experience in modern America

by Kevin Milton / Beacon Correspondent • November 3, 2016

The impact of my family’s immigration from Jamaica to the United States has affected me for most of my life. I was three years old and all I remember is my crying mother and baby sister, who I left behind, and a group of unfamiliar faces that met my father and I at the airport. That moment marks my becoming an immigrant in a country I would never fully embrace because it would never fully accept me.
 
Despite my residency in this country since my toddler years, I do not think of myself as an American. I say I am Jamaican and Cuban, although the place I call home is in Silver Spring, Maryland. I cannot identify as American because America represents something I do not feel a part of. Although the American image is supposedly comprised of many immigrants, I have not been able to find my place in this photo. With the upcoming presidential election, I find myself thinking about my immigrant identity even more frequently.
 
Immigration is a controversial issue in this country that constantly leaves people with opposing opinions. The dispute over whether the people we allow into our country are “good” has been debated for decades. However, these conversations seldomly include immigrant’s voices. In the wake of the upcoming election I do not doubt that much like myself, many immigrants are troubled by the thought of their race’s outcome.
 
I am deeply concerned by Donald Trump who proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,”  essentially calling for a ban on Muslim immigration in December of 2015 . When a presidential candidate says things like “all illegal aliens should be apprehended and deported,”  it allows the false notion that the majority, if not all, immigrants are bad people. It allows ignorance to run rampant by using a derogatory term to represent a large population of immigrants in America.   
 
For years I tried to understand what was so bad about the idea of allowing people within our borders. Do we not promote a land of opportunity? Was this country not built on immigration? Why does the conversation surrounding migrant peoples fail to acknowledge the positive contributions of immigrants?
 
As an immigrant, I look to my American citizenship as more of a formality than a part of my identity. Here at Emerson, I wanted to find others with similar backgrounds or students with shared interests in immigration reform. I found support in the form of Emerson’s UNITE, an organization that explores immigration and this year is participating in a social justice campaign nationwide. I hoped that participating in this organization would expose me to different views on immigration, but more importantly it would offer the chance to educate those who aren’t aware of our nation’s current laws on immigration, and a way to discuss reform.
 
In June 2016  the #IAmAnImmigrant campaign was launched by FWD.us, a lobbying group that aims to advocate for its version of immigration reform . The campaign encourages everyone to explore their individual heritage and recognize distinct and shared experiences in an attempt to reinstate a collective narrative. In doing so, it allows us to recognize the contributions of migrant people to the past and present United States. Campaigns like this are what we need.
 
The #IAmAnImmigrant campaign was celebrated this past Tuesday on Immigrant Day. Emerson is part of 55 colleges across America that participated. With dozens of schools participating, news about immigration reform will be widespread here at Emerson and beyond. The goal is to get people talking in order to challenge the negative perceptions of today’s immigrants.
 
I was eager to take part in this movement through Emerson’s UNITE as the election draws near because I could potentially use my experience as an immigrant to depict a new understanding of immigration. I believe that the election of Donald Trump as President would be detrimental to the future of many immigrants and their families here in the U.S. because we rely on the labor, tax dollars, and other contributions of immigrants.
 
This academic school year I will be serving as one of the student leaders of Emerson’s Alternative Spring Break trip to El Paso, Texas. Students who participate will delve deeper into the topic of immigration. Currently, there is no path to citizenship for undocumented people here in the United States. This is unsettling because it creates unbreakable barriers for families that deal with immigration and denies undocumented individuals the chance to naturalize despite their contributions to this country.
 
Here at Emerson College many students, faculty, and staff come from places around the world. Immigrant Day was an attempt to personalize this fact and gain a better understanding of an immigrant’s versatility rather than allow the perceivable undocumented person status to be an exclusive identity. An immigrant does not have to be of Mexican heritage. An immigrant does not have to be a criminal or “bad hombre,” as Donald Trump put it. An immigrant can be your classmate, your boss, or your white neighbor—an immigrant can be anyone. With the presidential election rapidly approaching, consider the possibility of losing someone you may know, because Donald Trump thinks that mass deportation is humane. Is that the America you want to stand for?