I can't fully remember the crowded airports and hours of waiting that took place when I immigrated to Philadelphia, but my family does. “Don’t worry abuelito and abuelita I will always have you in my heart” my mother those were one of the last words I said to grandfather and grandmother before I left for Philadelphia.
I have always taken pride in the fact that I was born in Ecuador, and how my family immigrated with little resources grew to where we are today. Immigrating to Philadelphia at a young age was grueling. I would be lying if I said it was all sunshine and rainbows.
There were days where I would walk home crying because the words on the board and in books were too hard for me to comprehend. I can still recall the guttural feeling shame and fear when I walked to schools some days. My mother noticed this and decided to push me into the right direction. We started to go to the Free Library of Philadelphia. I would read for hours on end every weekend. I went from reading books about fairies to reading classics like “The Giver” and biographies about every historical figure you could think of.
I used all my confusion and channeled it into trying to learn. I learned, grew and adapted because of my background. Situations like that were what made me the person who I am today.
My story is very similar to other immigrant families. Packing up and sacrificing for a better life down the road is a common theme for most families that immigrated to different countries.
I can empathize with immigrants because I am one. Everyone no matter where they were born should be able to empathize with people's struggles and have a basic respect for all. Sadly, there are some people who are so insecure and closed minded that the thought of people who talk or look different than them is mind-boggling.
“Hola mamá, estoy casi en casa.” I had called my mother to tell her I was coming home. She proceeds to thank me for notifying her in Spanish. I responded “De nada, hasta pronto”. Just as I said that I saw a woman look at me with a face that is hard to really describe. It was a look of disgust combined with a look of superiority. As soon as our eyes met I looked away and kept walking. I wouldn't say I felt ashamed after that but I just felt confused for that woman.
There have been so many other times where people are judged for what language they speak or just their looks. Someone I know was in their apartment lobby just waiting for an elevator. As soon as an elevator opened the woman standing next to her said: “I’d really appreciate it if you went on a different elevator, I want to be with my own people.”. My friend was so in shock that she just stood there and let the woman go by herself. When my friend told me this story she had tears in her eyes. That surprised me because I barely see her. This just shows how someone's ignorance can affect people.
Actions like this don’t just happen in the United States through I've even seen this in my own home country of Ecuador. There is currently a gigantic crisis happening in Venezuela. The inflation there is unbelievable and there is little to no medical care for those that truly need it. This crisis has caused many Venezuelans to immigrate to many countries including Ecuador. Many of these people are families that only have a bag to their name and are just trying to survive.
The problem is a lot of Ecuadorians that don't want Venezuelan immigrants in their country. I saw a prime example of this in a car ride back to my grandparents. My grandfather switched the station and he stopped on a woman talking about Venezuelan immigrants. She was literally yelling about how Venezuelans would make the country impure. She then stated word for word "We already have enough black people in this country, what would make you think we want more.". After that, I had to tell my grandfather to turn it off because I didn't want my 9-year-old sister to hear such toxic ideas.
I do believe that immigration reform is needed in Ecuador but if you just spew hate nothing gets changed. You need to make sure immigrant families are getting jobs and education to help the country in the long term. There also need to send aid and legal reform to Venezuela itself, so they can get back on their feet.
In conclusion, All of us need to be able to accept that we are all different. We must learn to acquire the basic human dignity to respect each other. Without actual empathy from all sides nothing will change.