by Grace Masback
Our country, and in many ways the world as a whole, is in a dark place. A place of fear. A place of anger. A place of hate. Recently, the “Brexit” campaign, riding on a wave of nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment, used a borderline (or actual) demagogic campaign and nationalist fervor to emerge successful in a referendum about whether Great Britain should withdraw from the European Union, immediately plunging the country into a state of economic turmoil.
Now, turning to the United States, with the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump face-off in the general election an impending reality, we find ourselves faced with a Republican candidate who is gaining support by spewing increasingly provocative, bigoted, and hateful speech, especially surrounding immigrants and refugees.
Trump’s rhetoric about building a wall between the United States and Mexico, his characterizations of immigrants as “murderers and rapists,” and his allegations that all Syrian refugees are in some way tied to Islamic terrorists organizations have time and time again proved unfounded and spiteful. Still, the following and support that he has managed to attract is proof of the ignorance pervasive amongst so many Americans — both young and old.
Few people even understand the basic difference between a refugee and an immigrant, equating both with poverty, dependency, and violence. While refugees are those fleeing conflict or persecution and immigrants are those simply coming to the U.S., the two groups are the same to Trump, who alleges that the majority of both groups are murderers, rapists, economically dependent, and/or terrorists. He is wrong. They are good people, hard working people, people looking to create new lives and opportunities.
The U.S. would do well to learn from its neighbors. This year, the U.S. plans to accept approximately 85,000 refugees, about 10,000 from Syria. So far, only 2,000 have been accepted. In contrast, Canada will welcome 300,000 refugees this year, 40,000 of them Syrian. They have already welcomed 30,000 Syrians.
Unlike the U.S., the people of Canada have developed an attitude of great compassion towards their immigrant and refugee populations, facilitating the ability for many migrants to come to Canada via private sponsorships. In this way, Canadian citizens welcome immigrants and refugees into their families and play a vital role in helping to guide them through the assimilation process.
Let’s not forget our roots. The United States is a country of immigrants, including many who came here as refugees. We are a melting pot of culture and heritage. Yet, in his crass attempts to attract voters, Trump and his followers seem to have forgotten this most basic of historical facts.
The hate is, in some ways, understandable. It’s easy to become insulated in our schools, offices, or communities and get caught up in the scare tactics of politicians and the media. Continuing to welcome people from other nations around the world gives us new perspectives, ideas, and opportunities. Through interaction and cross-cultural exchange, the ignorance that breeds hate dissipates.
Opening our borders and embracing refugees and immigrants with open arms might not be easy, but it would ultimately pay major dividends for the country as a whole. It would welcome in new people to help expand and diversify our workforce. They would bring skills and ideas that would help advance the country technically, historically, and culturally. It would begin to undermine the narrative of refugees and immigrants as lazy dependents or dangerous terrorists.
Our generation, Gen Z, is the first post-race, post-gender generation. We have already grown up in a world where binary gender identifications are no longer the norm and traditional conceptions of identity are fluid. While discrimination is more ingrained into the experiences of our parents and grandparents, we have the opportunity to utilize our radical willingness to embrace the new and the different to help those coming to the U.S. in search of a new life. We as a generation no longer judge people based on their color, their background, or their heritage. We judge them based on their interests, their passion, their intelligence, the stories they tell. Then, once we get to know someone we are equally excited to hear about and learn from their background and experiences that might be very different from our own.
Besides the simple change in our attitude, we are actively tearing down the walls, both figurative and literal, separating the United States and the people desperate to get here. Non-profit organizations like No One is Illegal and Hacienda CDC are helping us in our efforts, but our passion is leading the charge. We are talking with our parents, our teachers, our state representatives. We are starting our own non-profits and putting on programs that allow students to welcome and help assimilate immigrants and refugees. We are writing about the topic, posting about it, making videos. We want to make change.
People around the world idolize and idealize our country, undergoing threat-filled journeys to reach it. It is for this reason that it is our responsibility, our duty to welcome them. With wars threatening individuals, communities, and nations around the world, people have never needed our support as much as they need it now.
The numbers are clear about the fact that most young people are willing and excited to accept refugees, immigrants, and the experiences and friendships that they bring. But, the tragic reality is that the voice of young people is being drowned out. Our voices of reason are being ignored and marginalized by the louder (not to mention much older) voices of hate. Now, it is more important than ever that you get out there and do what you can. It is time for us, as young people, as a generation gathering strength by the day, to help change the conversation.
So, vote if you can. Talk to politicians. Start conversations if you can. Write articles and Op-Eds. Post on social media. Let’s lead the way to changing the narrative and perception around this vital issue. Let’s drown out hate and embrace positivity. It will be up to us to determine if we grow up in a world that is bigoted and shuts people out who have nowhere else to go, or if we grow up in a society that embraces our inherent multiculturalism, and uses it to learn and grow.