Two years ago, right before the explosion at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, my family and I were in Istanbul on a Friday and Saturday. It was during Ramadan, on Friday night before sunset when we walked around a part of the city with dozens of restaurants with patio seating. There were thousands of Muslims sitting at those tables eyeing the food in front of them waiting for the signal that it was sunset so they could dive in.
It was at that moment I truly had an epiphany. These people sitting at those tables – they were me and my family, but instead of having been born Irish Catholic in Philadelphia, they were born Turkish Muslim in Istanbul. We had a guide for the night and the next day, Ali Yalniz. I have met a lot of people in my life, and he was among the nicest people I had ever met. And, in much the same way I sometimes say that I am a selective Catholic, I think Ali had a little selective Muslim thing going for him. Despite having decent free public schools for his kids, Ali was sending his kids to a private school because he wanted the best for his kids. In another land, in another culture, in another religion, Ali was me, wanting the best for his kids and willing to sacrifice and work his butt off to get there.
Last year, my son and I traveled to India so that he could shadow doctors for two weeks to help shape his future. Part of the reason we were there (which could not have happened without the assistance of a good friend, Dr. Priti Bloor who was born in Ahmedabad where we stayed and had family and friends willing to take us in) was because many of the opportunities available in the US were offered only to women and underrepresented minorities. There may have been a little bitterness that we had to travel to a country where we were an underrepresented minority to have the opportunity with only limited availability here. But, he was taken in by some outstanding doctors who took the time to explain the procedures he was able to watch at the operating table. There was tremendous culture shock for us outside of his hospital rounds in seeing the day to day life and struggles in India. At one point, we travelled to Palitana, a holy place for Jains, in a way similar to Mecca for Muslims. In 100+ degree heat at 5:00 am, we started a 3.5 mile hike with 3,000+ vertical steps to the top of a small mountain where over 900 Jain temples have been built over the centuries (and one Mosque in honor of some Muslims who saved the temples when other groups of Muslims had invaded). It was a rough few hours making it to the top. Clearly looking out of place as the only non-Indians we saw that day (we were two of nine non-Indians we saw during our entire 16 days in Gujurat), a Jain family “adopted” us. The father spoke good English as he travelled to Dallas once a year for work. The young teenage boys had clearly been learning from their father. But we spent a few hours with them going to parts of the temples we never would have ventured on our own. In a very brief time, we learned a little about their religion and their customs, and some about their own hopes and dreams for their kids. Again, like Ali in Istanbul, these people were me. They wanted a good life for their family.
This year, though his university, my son is volunteering in a house (really a compound) in Texas – a house that has been around for almost 40 years which temporarily houses immigrants that have come to the US. As part of the compound, there is a women’s house, two “disabled” houses, a clinic and a warehouse to support the facility. The warehouse also functions as a men’s house. My son is living in the men’s house (men and women are not allowed in the opposite’s house except for religious services), eating rice and beans with the residents for almost every meal, and doing his best to help these people. In some cases, it is helping them get papers to be able to work. In some cases, it is to help them get medical services. Six days a week, he delivers drinks and sandwiches to the day laborers waiting on corners. He has come to be happy when they are not there because they have gotten hired for the day. When they work, for the most part, they are sending what they can to their families back in the native countries. Because they want a better life for their families.
All of these people are me. Whether they were born in Turkey or India or Mexico. I happened to be born an Irish Catholic in Philly.
I am 53. For the most part, I have voted Republican throughout my life. I describe myself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. So, very much torn between two parties. I voted for Gary Johnson in 2016 – not because I thought he had a chance to win but because I didn’t align with Trump or Hilary and have hopes for a viable third party some day. I would like a party that wants many of the good things that Democrats and Republicans want, but wants to make sure we can pay for it. I have voted Republican because, while I am socially liberal, I want to be fiscally responsible and the fiscal issue has historically won out.
But, honestly, while Trump has made a fair amount of fiscally responsible moves, some of the other actions that he has either done or at least has taken a laissez-faire or even callous approach to are now pushing my own internal needle a little left.
I don’t want to be associated with the far right or far left. I think (and maybe I am wrong) that I fall into a space where so many less vocal (than the extremes) Americans fall – right there in the middle. Doing what is right but not without consideration. And, while I say that I feel like I am like so many Americans, and I know I am making some assumptions here, but I feel like I am like the majority of world citizens. They want to live a good life, and want what’s best for their families. Whether they are in Ahmedabad, India, or Istanbul, Turkey, or Southwest Atlanta, or Detroit, Michigan. We are all the same – just born in different places.
And, if that better life involves coming here to America (where my grandmother and a few of her 12 siblings chain migrated to in the late teens and 20s in the early 20th century), bring it on. While we need borders, we need them to be welcoming, not scary. Come in, sign your papers that you’d like to be a US Citizen, get a social security number, start paying taxes and start vesting as a citizen. Go ten years without incident, become a fully vested citizen. Add to this melting pot of cultures that makes the US great.
So, in this era of “where was your outrage when Obama and Clinton did these same things,” and “Trump is a fascist,” and “The Democrat created these issues,” I say screw the blame. We know what we know now. Fix the problems.
Those kids in the detention camps – they absolutely could be mine. I just happened to be born Irish Catholic in Philly. Those people seeking a better life? They are you.
As I said, I am a selective Catholic which may translate a little into “I don’t know the Bible all that well.” But I do know the whole “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto Me.” This is probably a little anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-Jew, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu and anti every other world religion, but I do believe there is one God – Christians have him in the Trinity, Jews as the Father (same one as in the Trinity), Muslims in Mohammed, Hindus in different representations of the same God. But, it’s all the One. It just depends a little on where you were born.
So, yes. Be kind and welcoming. We are much more similar to each other than we are different. That’s us out there being turned away. Those are our kids being taken from us. Not literally. But, if you and your kids were born elsewhere, you’d probably try to make it here too.