I grew up hearing stories of how my mother’s family fled Morocco. My grandparents were Jews who had lived there for generations and were originally from Spain. (And yes, they had fled Spain as well, way back in the good ol’ days of the Inquisition.)
Their stories were both beautiful and bitter, and they spoke about their home country with love and sadness. Love for the culture, the food and the language they held on to until their last day. Sadness for how dangerous life had become there for Jews back in the late 40s and 50s, and for the fact they had to escape.
I could go into all of the reasons for why they fled, why anti-Jewish riots erupted in their town, Oujda, and elsewhere. (The creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948? Growing Pan-Arabism?) But I won’t. You could make either or both of those politically-charged arguments for days — or, as it turns out, decades. But that’s not what this piece of writing is about. This is about one indisputable fact: Whatever the underlying causes for the outbreak of violence in their home country, the result was that my grandparents — and my mother and her siblings — were rendered refugees.
As it turns out, so were most of my friends’ families. Some way back when, some more recently.
Perhaps that is why so many of us felt like we were punched in the gut earlier today, when our newly-elected President announced he would put a four-month hold on allowing refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries into the United States.
As usual, the only immediate outlet for our visceral reaction was, sadly but inevitably, social media channels. I too took to Facebook, and posted the following:
“Like this post if you or your relatives/ancestors were once refugees. Doesn’t matter from where. Doesn’t matter what religion.”
The likes started coming in just seconds after I posted. Friends from Egyptian, Italian, Polish, Indian, English and yes, Syrian, families liked my post. Some commented, relating their own personal family stories. The unsurprising conclusion? We are all refugees. Or at least most of us are — or were, at one point in our complex histories. Even more importantly, we come from refugees who were given refuge. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be alive today, here to like posts on Facebook and retweet articles we agree with (don’t get me started on the reality distortion field generated by social media, because that is also another loaded topic I won’t get into here).
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for security. I don’t want terrorists in this country any more than President Trump does. But I do want refugees. And those two desires aren’t mutually exclusive.
So here is my message: I don’t care what religion you are, or what country you come from, I want you here. And so, by the way, does our greatest symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty. President Trump, you should pay her a visit sometime, and read the beautiful words she presents as a “welcome sign” to immigrants and refugees from all over the world. They were written by the American poet Emma Lazarus (who, by the way, was the descendant of Spanish Jews), and inscribed on Lady Liberty’s pedestal:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I don’t know about you, but those words make me shiver with pride. And I hope they will for years to come.
All of us, Trump supporters and Trump haters and inbetweeners, need to remember that #WeAreAllRefugees. No matter where you’re from.