My foreign-born accent gives me away in America like some characters in the Old Testament – those who were caught as spies because they could not pronounce some words in the proper dialect.
Being an immigrant in the United States for more than 50 years, and having been at the United Nations for 10 of those years, I have learned to navigate the multilingual global village amid a monolingual cultural setting.
So when I recently met a grocery store produce manager, and when my instincts told me he was from a foreign country, I had to be careful in my “anthropological explorations.”
After a friendly conversation, the man told me he was from Africa. Then, that he has a college business degree and that he is trying to get his college transcripts to return to school. In the meantime, being married, he needed to work.
I was proud of myself. I did not inquire about his immigration status but about his family and his willingness to return to the university. He told me he was a practicing Muslim and the correct pronunciation of his name. We shook hands, and I hope to see him again.
“Immigration debate” seems a misnomer, too litigious in a world without borders. I rather classify it as an “immigration conversation.” But as I drove home from the grocery store, I wondered how folks in the current immigration conversation would classify or stereotype the gentleman I had just met.
Would they see:
· an honest Muslim immigrant of African descent with a business degree?
· a potential terrorist masked as a regular worker but feared by those who adhere to certain prejudices and stereotypes in current America?
· a person who came to the United States to join his family, which may own a business in the city where I live?
· one of the many Christian African immigrants from certain countries who are starting churches in Chicago, Raleigh, New York, Houston, Los Angeles and other urban and rural locations in America?
· or a person created in the image of God?
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Our America – settled by Pilgrims avoiding religious persecution and later moving westward, displacing the native population – may need some spiritual awakening as to who is “the stranger” in our midst.
That famous portion of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” at the Statue of Liberty may have to be revised in our times with a new welcome:
· “Give me the wealthy from the world who can invest in small towns of America, with car manufacturers employing the unemployed for wages less than what the union requires.”
· “Give me the Asian, European and Middle Eastern billionaires who can endow a stadium or an art center.”
· “Give me the foreign-born medical students who do not mind doing their medical residencies in an obscure VA or county hospital, as long as they are allowed to earn their medical degree in the United States and fill the shortage of doctors.”
The way of Jesus Christ, who was a refugee as a child and died on the cross between two thieves and under a sign written in three languages, demands a better America.
Let’s repeat Micah’s words: “What does the Lord require of thee? To seek justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
David F. D’Amico is a retired evangelism and missions professor and former CBF missionary to the United Nations. He lives in Louisville, Ky.