A Family Story of Two Immigrants

My family immigrated to the United States when I was 5 years old. My father applied for and obtained a green card relatively easily as an educated professional. Without any hiccups, my parents became US citizens a few years later and I followed thereafter becoming a US citizen on September 16, 1988. I remember with pride obtaining my citizenship, but I was not as appreciative of the benefits I would be afforded. My family is from Canada.

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Twenty-four years later, my then fiancé applied for a fiancé visa to the United States. We filled out countless documents detailing his education, medical exam, financial and bank information and evidence of our relationship together including emails, travel, and the birth of our daughter. He was granted a visa and we moved from Kenya to the US in the fall of 2012. Carefully following immigration procedures, we completed in-person interviews, submitted ongoing paperwork and documentation of our life together, allowing him to obtain permanent residency (a “green” card). At the same time, he obtained an MBA from the University of Denver and found stable employment. Eventually, he was able to apply for citizenship. He studied seriously for his citizenship test- 100 questions I would not have been able to answer half of and passed with flying colors. The whole family attended his swearing in ceremony with pride. His citizenship meant so much. Visa-free travel around the world, employment opportunities, and above all, the confidence that we could remain as a family indefinitely in the United States. Things I never once worried about with or without my US citizenship. My husband is from Kenya.

Recent immigration rhetoric has turned ugly in many ways. When we don’t know individual immigrants, we tend to lump people into whole groups that don’t represent who they are or where they come from. Our immigration history shows that as a country we go through waves of targeted anti-immigrant fervor- sometimes targets Catholics or Jewish people, other times Chinese, non-white, and Latinos. At certain times it was incredibly hard to immigrate if you were Irish, Polish, or Italian- hard to imagine today.

While it is true that many immigrants come to the US seeking a better life, clearly many are not impoverished, uneducated, violent, or hold extremist views. African immigrants, who were recently characterized as coming from “shithole” countries for example, have generally higher education rates than the US population as a whole with 43% holding bachelor’s degrees or higher versus 29% of U.S. citizens, and 70% already speak English on arrival. But statistics only mean so much. What about the actual people? The majority of Kenyans we know in the U.S. came initially for educational opportunities not available in Kenya. They chose to stay because job options for them in Kenya aren’t comparable to here.

My children are incredibly lucky. Not just because they were born in the U.S. and have U.S. citizenship but because they are also able to be dual citizens of Kenya. Kenya is an amazing country, with incredible people who we are proud and blessed to be a part of.

If you’re uncertain about immigration- get to know an immigrant, learn about your family’s own immigration story and challenges. You may be surprised how alike our stories are.

Girl Rising

By: Lisa Abuogi

Late in the evening on a crisp November evening, I went into labor with my first child. We drove 30 minutes to the pristine University Hospital where I planned to deliver. When the baby’s heart rate kept dropping a team of doctors and nurses from multiple specialties crowded the room prepared to save her life and protect mine. My daughter, Lailah Atieno was born healthy on the 23rd of November, 2010.

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I was living in Kenya at the time of Lailah’s birth, working in remote rural regions hit hard by the HIV epidemic. On one visit to a faraway clinic, I remember bouncing along the muddy roads 7 months pregnant thinking, “What happens if I go into labor right now?”. I chose to return to the U.S. for delivery. As a pediatrician myself, I knew the complications that could happen during labor and delivery. I wanted to give Lailah the very best chance.  I was privileged to have that option.

When Lailah turned 2, my Kenyan husband and I decided to relocate to the U.S. We wanted Lailah to have the best educational opportunities possible without having to pay top dollar for private schools. Again, we were privileged to be able to give her that.

But Kenyan girls and women are never far from my mind. I return three times a year for work on HIV. I see first-hand the challenges girls face trying to get an education. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of girls start primary school but only 8% finish secondary school. Girls drop out for lack of money (only elementary school is “free” in Kenya), due to missing too much school during menstruation, after getting pregnant, and to help at home. They are 6 times more likely to become child brides without a secondary education.

I want all parents to have the options we have had for our daughter- health and education. We focus on girls because they are so often left behind and excluded which hurts us all. For every additional year a mother is educated, the chances of her infant dying drop by 5-10%. Each extra year of secondary school can help a girl increase their future earnings by 10-20%.  

Brave Coalition is joining Women in Security and Regis University to celebrate the International Day of the Girl by screening the incredible documentary Girl Rising. These stories will bring you to tears, inspire you, and push you to act. Get tickets to the screening on Friday, October 20th. Join us. When girls rise, we all rise.

#bebrave #wearebrave

Charlottesville

#bebraveblog

By guest blogger, Diana Dascalu-Joffe

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia may be a few weeks removed but the pain and shock are still very fresh. Witnessing that much hate, violence and anger perpetuated in the name of white supremacy and Nazi sentiment on the streets of an American city, shook me to my core. 

I am the immigrant daughter of two Eastern European immigrant parents, who fled a dangerous and violent dictatorship founded on the same twisted principles espoused by the white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville. My parents fled the “us vs. them” mentality. They fled the disturbing nationalism and fearmongering which led to a deep distrust in any dissenting voice, all for the purpose of keeping those in power at the top.  Many of the same themes that drove my parents away from that dictatorship are being celebrated among hate groups, in 2017, in America. 

The American dream was my parent’s salvation.  America was known around the world as welcoming of anyone looking for a better life and opportunity.  They came here with $20, two suitcases and a 2 year old.  No family to help support them or provide jobs or housing. Similar to many other immigration stories, my parents left the only home they ever knew, stability, family, jobs, their culture on a sliver of hope.  A leap of faith.  And a fierce determination to provide a safer and more just society for their young daughter.

The author, held by her mother, father to the left, Senator Ted Kennedy who sponsored their emigration and members of his staff. 1981.

The author, held by her mother, father to the left, Senator Ted Kennedy who sponsored their emigration and members of his staff. 1981.

The events in Charlottesville inspired me to re-visit my parent’s enduring bravery even when faced with endless hurdles. These events have also forced me to deeply acknowledge the struggles of Americans today who face discrimination and violence just because of the color of their skin, or what religion they practice, or what gender they are, or who they love.  Just participating in everyday society is an act of bravery for many people of color or LGBTQ in America.

The hate groups who have become emboldened in recent months are indiscriminate in their hate.  This makes me fear for my own kids. They are kids born of a Jewish parent and an immigrant parent. In fact, there is no one I care about that is safe from their hate. It is natural to feel helpless.  I have struggled a lot with outrage fatigue in the past few months.  There are constant blows both professionally and personally to grapple with.  Every day I struggle to defend and protect a planet that cannot defend itself. It’s infuriating and overwhelming at times. 

But then, I remember that justice and freedom and inclusion and liberty don’t come easy.  They never have, especially in America.  If my parent’s struggle taught me anything, it’s that we must face the hurdles together and be brave! Every day, people still risk everything to come to America for a better life. We owe it to them and the generations before to fight for that ideal. And to stand together against those that seek to divide us.  

Start small, in your own community.  Small acts of kindness and tolerance can change the world.  Connect with local anti-oppression groups like Brave Coalition! It’s times like these that will test our resolve and commitment to a better America.  I’m ready, will you join me?     

#bebrave #wearebrave