The SWAAY Story: “I Am An Immigrant”

The SWAAY Story:

“I Am An Immigrant”

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I am an Irish immigrant. SWAAY’s Founder is a Muslim who emigrated here from Morocco, and our Managing Editor is a first generation Cuban whose grandparents arrived on JFK’s Freedom flights. Our stories are as diverse as they come, our backgrounds worlds apart and yet we have all ended up here in New York at the same time. There is no cosmic cause that explains why we have all met each other – there is simply the fact that this country has welcomed immigrants since its birth, and here we are, three immigrants of some variation, legally living in this country. And yet for the past week we have been questioning our very status because of a ban that persecutes those executing their right to travel here under years of agreements and contractual legislation between their countries and this one. Yes, it’s been temporarily stopped by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but with our new President responding with a law suit threat, it seems the ban is far from disappearing. 

We are bemused.

I am from Dublin – I am Irish, and by extension, I’m European. But first and foremost, I am a person. I do not quantify or qualify myself in terms of my nationality – in fact, it is only one of many parts that make up the whole. And it is not nearly the most important.

In the 1800’s however, this was a different story. Irish people were breaching the American border on ships plagued with disease, death and then, of course, disembarking from these ships in the state they were in, the Irish were quantified and qualified because of their nationality. They were dirty, desperate and fleeing a country that was very literally rotting from the ground up.

Sound familiar?

Courtesy of Talking Points Memo

It’s because this story is one that has regurgitated itself time and again over the centuries – one that is retold when there is a large migration from anywhere to a land that promises more opportunity, wealth and growth. It’s a story that has lead to the conception of visas and homeland security, and the coining of the term refugee status.

It is a story that (many choose to forget) led to the building of Manhattan – the cross country rail road and countless states, cities and towns across this nation.

The immigrants of America have very literally made the country what it is today, and this has been repeatedly proved over the last few weeks with stories from every corner of the country explicating how integral the presence of foreign nationals in this country is. 

SWAAY

Belisa, our managing editor, is as American as they come. She arrives into the office every morning sporting a Venti Starbucks and an impossibly large personality, coupled with an American twang that would challenge the haughtiest of Valley Girls. Her olive skin however, would fool those who don’t pay attention, and it’s those people that have her — all of us — worried. Those that would chastise my Irish accent in my New York job, and her tan-coloured skin and American passport. She was never anything but American, and her heritage attests to the very reason people are parading the streets in protest of Trump’s ban – because America has a history of saving the distressed, the exiled and the poor, not turning them away at customs.

Her grandmother came on President Kennedy’s Freedom Flights, which ran from 1965-1973 transporting Cubans to Miami airport when Castro’s malevolent plans for the country began coming to fruition. She arrived with nothing but hope for a better life. Hers was a situation similar to those fleeing a war-torn Europe back in the 1940s, whereby then President, Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a War Refugee Commission be established to help fleeing Jews from the persecution of fascist dictators. 

“It always astonishes me the leaps of faith my grandparents took leaving everything and everyone they knew just for the promise of an opportunity-filled tomorrow for babies that had yet to be born. The foresight and bravery of those who risked their lives to come to America is intricately woven into the very fabric of our nation. It’s who we all are.”

-Belisa Silva

Iman, our Founder’s story is a more recent one, told with more frequency and ease than that of the Irish fleeing the famine or the Cubans fleeing Communism. Her parents decided 12 years ago that they wanted their children to grow up encapsulated by the American Dream – two highly successful Moroccan engineers that abandoned their lucrative positions at home to introduce their children to a completely new and wholly different life. Their position was one millions have faced – one that called into question their very nationality, their devotion to the ‘homeland.’ Only, that wasn’t a factor here, their children’s future was the factor. They wanted better. They wanted the land that promised more.

“I was so angry with my parents for leaving our life in Morocco, where we had everything I thought we could ever want,” says Iman. “I fell into a depression as a young girl in this country because I didn’t know the language and I didn’t know anyone. My parents constantly told me to believe in the American Dream, and that I could do anything I wanted. I didn’t understand what this meant at first. However, after winning Miss New York US in 2015, earning my Masters and launching my business, all as a proud Muslim American woman, I can definitely say the American Dream is real.” 

Trump America Inc.

These past two weeks has seen a United States of America as divided perhaps as its ever been in recent history. Between the President breeding discontent in politics, as well as the people protesting for and against this immigration ban — coupled with talk of secession — there is certainly a revolution afoot.

The sheer enormity of the immigrant population in the U.S attests the fact that the ban is almost futile in its outlook. Migrationpolicy.org records that “The U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 42.4 million, or 13.3 percent, of the total U.S. population of 318.9 million in 2014, according to ACS data. Between 2013 and 2014, the foreign-born population increased by 1 million, or 2.5 percent. Immigrants in the United States and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 81 million people, or 26 percent of the overall U.S. population” – a staggering number, and an undeniable reason for the president to finish with the preposterous line of thought he is so dangerously circulating throughout the country – that immigrants are not welcome here. In that case – what do you do with the millions here already?

It is the beginning of a political climate that is separating people in the sand. There are those who believe the country should welcome everyone with arms wide open, and there are those who stand along the sidelines of the protests holding up signs in favor of walls and devision. It seems Trump’s election has opened the floodgates and allowed those who favor exclusion to finally feel strong enough about speaking their mind.  

While normally you would be hard pressed to hear a journalist speaking ill of free speech, but as Mr. Trump lumbers forward challenging freedoms that encapsulate the essence of the United States, I cannot help but wonder, what is the end game?

Amy Corcoran

Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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