Immigrant Images

Over winter break, our family spent some short but sweet time in our beloved Chicagoland. One morning we met up with friends for brunch in Greektown. While we sipped coffee and caught up on life, I noticed an older gentleman outside in the cold. The whole time we were leisurely eating he was bent over a shovel clearing the sidewalk of snow and ice. This man stood out to me. He was probably my dad’s age. Except instead of being retired and traveling the world, he was working hard…back-breakingly hard.

 I have no idea if he was an immigrant. I just assumed it because of all the little contextual clues. Maybe because he made me think of my dad, another hard-working immigrant.

Maybe because a couple days earlier we had lunch in old Koreatown. Again we caught up on life with dear friends this time over Korean chicken wings and Chinese noodles. Mike has been eating those wings since his (prehistoric) high school days at the same exact restaurant. These days though the owner’s daughter is at the cashier. In her friendly, smiling way, she told us how her parents are still cooking in the kitchen just like they have been doing for the past 30-some years. They are especially busy during the holidays. All of them (many familiar servers) worked for 2-weeks straight without anyone taking a single day off. These Chinese immigrants have worked enough sweat off to fill Lake Michigan. We don’t just love them for making our stomachs happy. We respect them for much more than that.

For me, a child of immigrants, I cannot think of them without thinking of the immeasurable sacrifices, loneliness, racism, language barriers, sweat labor, self-denial, and back-breaking work that have been an inevitable part of their lives. As a child of immigrants, I have greatly benefited from all that loving sacrifice in ways I can never repay. That is what makes America great. Opportunity, not limits. Bridges, not walls. For those who have never had the pleasure of personally knowing with some depth the stories of real immigrants, please do not rely on political rhetoric to form your thoughts. Seek the true stories of those around you and appreciate the undeniable humanity behind them.

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