My wife and I recently had to spend an extra night near the airport in Newark, New Jersey. I had led a couple of my workshops in New York City, and we were trying to fly back to our home in San Francisco. Unfortunately, intense rains in the Northeast forced the cancellation of many flights.
At first, we were disappointed that we could not get home. But I turned to my wife and said “You know, many times my best travel experiences come from when things go wrong. I end up meeting people I wouldn’t have met, and do things I wouldn’t normally do.”
We found a budget hotel on Staten Island, relatively affordable and close to the airport. To get to the hotel, we took Lyft. Our driver was named Angel, and I chatted with him during our 40-minute ride through heavy rain and even heavier traffic. It turns out he was born in Columbia, and came to the U.S. as a child, growing up in Queens, New York. A friend of his died in the terrorist attacks of 9-11, which inspired him to join the United States Marine Corps. He served two years in the Iraq War, and was involved in horrible battles such as Ramadi. He told of his heartbreak in seeing his friends and fellow Marines die, and trying to console their family members afterwards.
These days, he has a wife and three children, and is looking forward to starting a career with his new finance degree. Although I have pretty much always been opposed to how the U.S government started and carried out the Iraq War, I thanked Angel for his military service to the U.S., and said “You’re living the true American Dream. You’re a true patriot to our country.”
You see, I believe you can oppose a war, and still respect the warrior and their families.
Then my wife and I checked into our little budget hotel. The man behind the counter who checked us in was probably born in India or Pakistan, based on how he looked, and his slight accent. The cleaning women in the motel were probably from Puerto Rico, based on my understanding of various accents in Spanish. That night, my wife and I went to a nearby Italian restaurant, where the wait staff all had some sort of accent, and were probably not born in the U.S. The next morning, our Lyft driver was named Lev, and most likely was an immigrant from Russia or eastern Europe. The man at the Southwest Airlines curbside bag check station spoke with a Caribbean accent, though I don’t know if his accent was from Spanish, or French, or Creole, or something else. (I happen to speak in a Midwestern American English accent – which some people would incorrectly describe as “no accent.” We ALL have accents… somewhere.)
Can you go one day in America without encountering an immigrant? They might be invisible to some, but their work and dreams are as real as the Statue of Liberty.
None of these people were born in the United States. Like all of my Catholic Irish, German, and Lithuanian ancestors, they came to the U.S. seeking better opportunities for themselves and their spouses and children. Many of them were fleeing poverty, disease, intolerance, political and religious oppression, violence, and war. All of them were doing whatever work they could, to build a new life for themselves In the United States.
I don’t know what their citizenship status is, but all of them are living the American Dream.
All of them are continuing to build the American Dream, imperfect and mythical and bogus as it is, sometimes.
They are re-writing the story of who makes up the American Dream. It may no longer be an Irish streetcar conductor in Sioux City, Iowa. (That was my dad’s dad’s dad.) Instead, it might be a Columbian-born United States Marine’s daughter, who is now studying to be a pediatrician in northern New Jersey. Or a gay Indian software engineer, working 18-hour days in Silicon Valley to create a new technology which will delight you some day.
As our flight from Newark took off and headed west to sunny California, I turned and gave my wife a kiss.
She herself is an immigrant. When Vietnam fell in 1975, her family escaped by boat. She watched her mother die during the ordeal. She arrived in America as a motherless child refugee.
These people are why I love the United States.
These immigrants will continue to make American great…again.
Are you an immigrant? Are you married to one? Are your parents or grandparents immigrants? What has your experience been — whether you’ve come to the United States, or to another country?
Thanks for sharing your experiences in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure other readers would, too.