No matter what side of the immigration and citizen debate one gravitates to, the inability of our nation’s leaders to find consensus has been distressing to watch. During one of our team meetings, we found ourselves sharing our own stories of what the word immigration means to us. We thought we’d share a little more about our team members over the course of time.
When I was young, I learned and repeated stories in conversations about “where we were from” about a part of my family from Scotland – my maternal grandmother could do the Highland Fling and my middle name was McIntosh for which there was a designated tartan. I also learned that on my father’s side, in the 1700s, seven Zirkle brothers came from Germany and our family were descendants of the “Lewis” line.
My father and grandfather were named Lewis and I probably would have been if I had been born a boy. These stories were fun facts that I shared with my friends, but they did not feel significantly influential as I explored my identity. I did wonder as a child why after all of these years in the US, we still identified ourselves as “from other countries”. And as a child “from” the US, I was born in North Carolina, moved to Colorado and then 3 different places in California before settling in the Eastern side of Washington State at the age of 8. Because we only stayed a year or so in each place, belonging was something I had to feel out, choose and pursue.
Immigration came into focus for me beyond my own experience when I lived in Eastern Washington. I became aware that there was a large number of people who travelled up from Mexico and worked in the orchards and wheat fields. I knew that their lives were different than mine and I watched my parents, both doctors, give their time and their talent on a regular basis to many who were not economically situated as we were – particularly where immigrant families were not likely to get good care. My mother volunteered weekly in the local health clinics providing excellent pediatric care to migrant children and families. My father would care for individuals and take payment in trade – salmon, fruit – because he knew that insurance was not available to migrant workers and their injuries would cause great economic harm to them and their families. I also became increasingly aware of the narratives that were built and told about the same immigrant families – and they were not very positive. Looking back, I wish I would have recognized that these narratives were spun by others, not them. I wish I had done more to see and know people who endured so much in pursuit of a better life – the life I had handed to me.
So, here we are now in 2019 with a very difficult national division around immigration. When I reflect on my growing up, I have attempted to surface and identify the assumptions I made as I moved through education, health and development and achievement as a white person, born in the US. I acknowledge that the stories I was told about my own heritage stayed in the background for me as I pursued opportunities. I am grateful for the work my parents did to care for others, particularly immigrants in our area. I am deeply troubled by the divide that we are experiencing as some feel that they have a “right” to be in this country while others “want” to be in this country. I am innately aware of the power of belonging and the harm that othering can do and I long for and am committed to a world where we all experience and believe that we belong.[Picture above: My mother in her Scottish dress.]