What is the first thing that you think of when you hear the name “Muhammad”?
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name “Ali”?
Context plays an integral role in understanding the world, and it plays an even more crucial role in knowing and appreciating who someone is. Knowing someone’s history; what their childhood was like; what obstacles they faced; how they faced them: these are the types of details that breed true understanding and, hopefully, respect.
There is the border that we know on the news, then there is the real border. Determining what is real and what is perceived is an increasingly difficult task, particularly as the news becomes more and more polluted with entertainment.
For the last decade we have been told that there is an immigration crisis, and images of people running through the desert make it feel real. Yet understanding the immigration issue is much more complicated than securing our borders. Understanding the problem and the solutions are much more personal than detached.
Immigration, despite the best efforts of some politicians and the media, is not a partisan issue — it is a series of regional issues. What is true for Kentucky is different than what is true for Florida, Texas, California, or even Oregon or New York. And make no mistake about it, immigration is personal. In many ways it is like health care — each story is unique.
The feature story this week is about an amazing individual who realized the American Dream as described to us as children: a land of opportunity, where you can work from rags to riches and provide for your family. This man is not Latino or Asian, he did not come here by boat or jumping a fence. A decorated soldier in Saddam Hussein’s special forces, the Republican Guard, with an arbitrary birthdate, Rida Hassan came to America via defection and a refugee camp in the first Gulf War. He is the face of immigration.
Another story that sticks with me is that of a young German man who was a student at U of L’s Speed school. He was working on his Ph.D. and on a project through Morehead State where they were constructing and firing rockets into space — obviously a brilliant, ambitious young man and someone America should want to retain. Unfortunately his visa expired, and he was forced to return home, with all of the talent and expertise afforded him by an American education.
The diversity within our community is astounding — as in, it goes well beyond U of L’s basketball recruits. The Americana Community Center provides services to Louisvillians from 98 different countries. According to a publication from Jefferson County Public Schools in 2011, there were 100 different languages spoken by JCPS students.
Scale is a difficult, sometimes impossible concept to grasp. Nevertheless, the rest of the world is here. It is here in the U.S. and it is in Louisville. The question for us: How do we respond? Clenched fist or open palm?
This is why we must understand the context of the immigration issue. We, or at least our representatives, must strive to humanize the statistics. I am certain that most, if not all, members of Congress would do everything they could to help any individual who is trying to reunite with their family — caring for other human beings is not a partisan issue.
The other issue is the misuse of the term “crisis.” The year 2008 was an economic crisis. The 9/11 attacks were a security crisis. And when hundreds of thousands of Latin American children were being shipped to America last year, that was an immigration crisis. Up until that point, immigration was a problem, and one that needed to be addressed. Now is the opportunity for Congress to act, and act responsibly, before the next “crisis.”
When you read the story about Iraqi immigrant Rida Hassan in this issue, take note of how he describes American hospitality — the care and consideration shown to foreign individuals’ cultures, despite being in a war zone. That is America at its absolute best. That is the America we dream about as kids. That is the America for which people still risk their lives to make it their home.