I live in south Omaha with my husband and four kids. Yesterday I ventured out with the older three in search of a used storage piece for my dining room. I decided to head to 24th Street. There's a corner there where you can park and walk to three or four thrift stores. Seemed like the perfect activity to get us out, scout some good deals, and visit a part of the city that I really appreciate.
You see, there was a time in my life where I saw myself living overseas...forever. I wanted to teach English or translate the Bible or just be somewhere where I learned new languages and experienced life in another culture. Ironically, we ended up working with at-risk teens, which is learning new languages and living in another culture. But there are still moments of longing, times where I get the itch to travel and learn and experience.
Thankfully, south Omaha is truly a 'salad bowl' of culture. (I learned in my college Pluralism and Cultural Diversity class that it is no longer PC to say melting pot. Melting pot implies that cultures disappear, salad bowl implies that they mix and yet still compliment. Truth be told, I would pick melting pot over salad bowl any day. Melting pot= cheese, chocolate, food on stick. Salad bowl= crunchy, healthy, leaves me hungry. But this is just personal preference.)
Our part of the city is home to many immigrants. I see African women with beautiful faces and colorful wraps standing next to me in the produce section (often holding a fruit or vegetable that I don't recognize.) The children at the library rattle off to each other in Spanish and then cheerfully translate when one of my kids tries to pipe in. The two closest gas stations are owned and run by people of Arab descent. The Asian grocery store, the African Convenience Mart, the plethora of businesses that advertise and function in Spanish- all of these are signs of life to me.
There is a growing sentiment in our culture, a subtle but sad belief that it is patriotic to want people to only speak English. I agree that the country will function most efficiently and be the most unified if we have a national language. I'm all for people speaking English. What bothers me is the way that this sentiment feels hostile and judgmental, as if looking at immigrants and saying to them "You are not welcome here until you can be just like us."
I feel quite the opposite.
As I look at these immigrants, I imagine the journey of travelling with little ones or alone or with nothing. I know some came to flee war, some to find wealth, some to provide education or health care, some to escape persecution. I am thankful that we can be part of the place that they come. And I hope with all my heart that they find life here, that they see themselves as Americans, and that they fully embrace and are embraced by us.
On a side note, I'm all for immigrants being official and registering and paying taxes and all that. I realize that our government is a business not a charity- we can't put out more than we get. I guess the statement I'm trying to make is not one of a political stance but of a personal disposition to be pro-immigrant. To say to the African mom in the grocery store, "I am for you." To look at the Arab gas station owner with a smile that speaks, "Welcome. You are welcome here." To listen to the Spanish being spoken all around me and see that as something that enriches my children's view of the world; that already at young ages, they know that there are all kinds of languages being spoken right in our neighborhood.
This embracing of others is, I believe, the response that is truest to our Savior's heart. He came to reconcile us to Him, and from that it reconciles us to each other. His love knows no language, there is no 'most favored nation' status in the kingdom. We are simply His children.
The response to embrace is also reflective of the reality that we are a nation made up mostly of immigrants. At some point in my history, my ancestors traveled from Europe to settle here. Were those ahead of them welcoming? Did others help them settle in, learn their way, figure out life here? I don't know. But I hope that I can treat others the way I would have want my own family to be treated.
As we stopped yesterday at the International Bakery, I thanked God for the foreign smells and the new foods and the whole experience that gives my kids something beyond white bread America. I want my kids to be intrigued and not threatened by those who are different. I want them to love languages, to appreciate cultures, and to look beyond skin color and accents into the hearts of those they meet. And more than anything, I want to them to grow up with a big view of the world and an even bigger view of a God who passionately loves the entire world.
And that's why I'm thankful to live in this 'salad bowl' of a suburb, and why I'm proud to be pro-immigrant.