Flowers for Lamia

Author shares appreciation for—and admiration of—immigrant populations

The author, a longtime Chico resident and professor of public health, is married to an immigrant.

In recent months, we have witnessed a campaign aimed at disparaging the character of immigrants to the United States. Having lived and worked with immigrants, both legal and illegal, over a lifetime, I have acquired a deep and broad appreciation for this population.

I am descended from immigrant grandparents and was raised in a community with a large percentage of recently immigrated folks. Nearly all of my childhood friends spoke a language other than English in their homes, because their grandparents had landed on our shores from distant lands. We were the communal wards of all the grandparents in the neighborhood: good people of limited English proficiency who found myriad ways of demonstrating universal human values to our generation. I was first introduced to the concept of American exceptionalism not from jack-booted fascisti but from optimistic, prideful immigrants.

My mom, Mary, taught me English; my Lebanese grandmother, Lamia, spoke only Arabic; and the Canadian nuns at St. Theresa’s elementary school taught me exclusively in French. At 8 years of age, I was fluent in three languages and three cultures, through no fault of my own.

To this day there is no one I respect more than Lamia, a paragon of strength and wisdom. During the Great Depression, following the premature death of her husband, Lamia worked double shifts at the textile mills to provide a safe and secure home for her three children. These incredible immigrant women taught me to love this land, the value of education, and, to quote Robert Frost, the joy of “early morning gladness at the brim.”

My recent experiences with legal and illegal immigrants continue to reinforce my admiration and respect for this population. Data from reputable sources suggest that murderers and rapists are under-represented within this group. Making America great again involves continuing to strengthen (hybridize) the fabric of our society with the intelligence, ambition, hard work and decency of immigrants. To make America great again requires a sensible immigration program, not hysterical xenophobia. America is at its greatest when it welcomes deserving newcomers with open arms.