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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fondue Pot

The Anchoress has a post about a conversation she had with Chinese immigrants, and how this conversation has inspired her. In turn, she has inspired me, for my life, also, has been touched by immigrants.

Most of us descend from immigrants; my family is mostly Northern European. My Mom's side came over from Ireland as a result of the potato famine, and married into the French and German ancestry that created our current tribe. My Dad's side was all Swedish. In fact, we are...what...2nd and 3rd generation? My grandfather's parents immigrated and settled in the US, and he ended up in Escanaba, MI, (The Upper Peninsula). My grandmother came to America as a child, and in fact she tried to study Spanish but they kicked her out of class because her Swedish accent was so thick that they despaired of her attempts!

But this post didn't make me muse about my family, but rather, others I have met. Down the road is a little liquor store I frequent when looking for good wines. The "new" owners are Hmong, I think, or possibly Vietnamese. I confess I'm not certain, but their nationality does not make a difference in the regard I have for them. They are just the sweetest couple, are quick to make recommendations and always recognize their regular customers. Just yesterday I stepped in to look for some wines to bring to my brother's house tomorrow, and the dear lady and I again discussed a new wine I had not tried. After I had paid for my purchase, she reached under the counter and handed me a little bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, saying, "This is my gift to YOU. Merry Christmas!"

So I learned something...I have the impression that this family is Christian, and is proud to wish their customers a blessed Christmas, rather than a canned greeting. Or perhaps she is simply observant and remembered the crucifix I often wear. In any case, their religious affiliation is not important; rather, their ability to be so personable is what makes a difference. They also are proudly American; in a prominent location they have an article posted about the Hmong community and this community's involvement in the US military. They are EXTREMELY proud of their sons and daughters who are serving in defense of this country. A visit to this shop leaves no doubt that this family loves both the homeland they fled, and the homeland they have adopted, and which has adopted them. I wish them all a blessed and Merry Christmas - may they have many more. One day I must remember to ask them their story.

Just before I left my last position, a customer from Russia came my way. Her car had been stolen and I obtained the standard recorded statement (per our investigation process) as she detailed what had occurred. She was just the sweetest lady, and I really LOVED her accent. And naturally, because I am nosy (I was an investigator, after all) I asked her where she is from.

And the woman gave me her story; she is from Russia and has been in the United States for 15 years. During a time of change in their government, she took the opportunity to flee the oppression of her country and got into the Ukraine with her son. They stayed there with either relatives or friends. (I forget). When they could, they came to America and have since built a life here. I asked her what drew here here, of all the countries in the world? The opportunity. The freedom to do so much, the most impact that this would have upon her son. She did not want him to experience the tyranny she had lived under for so many years.

But there was a deep sadness in her voice; she was planning a trip to the Ukraine, and had been back there a few years ago. But because she'd fled her homeland, she can never go back; they consider her to be a criminal, just for fleeing. She was going to be within 6 miles of her homeland, but can never go home to visit her family there. She fully expects she will never see them again. If she attempts to cross, she will be arrested.

I don't pretend to know the full circumstances, but I don't believe the issues are truly criminal, rathr political. She defected, she sacrificed a great deal in order to live in the United States, and she sees this country as home, even as she misses the land that saw her birth.

And that leads me into another topic, which relates both to immigration and ecumenism. Here in the Twin Cities, we have a HUGE Somali population, the vast majority of which are Muslim. As you'd expect, their presence has a mixed reaction, but in my observation, they are mostly a people just trying to make a foreign land "home" and live their lives in peace.

I have mixed feelings about Islam, which I will not be discussing here, but I have found the Somali people to be just like anyone else, even if we have our cultural differences on occasion.

Just recently, a co-worker explained how she had gone to the store a couple years ago to order a special cake for the priest at the parish where we work. (I was not working there then). The young woman at the bakery was wearing a head covering, was obviously Muslim, and didn't speak a lot of English, although she was trying really hard. So my coworker, who for some reason had a photo of the priest with her, showed it to her and managed to explain that the cake she was ordering was for him, for a special occasion the parish was honoring.

The girl became very excited, exclaiming, "Oh! A Holy Man! A Holy Man!" She completely understood the importance of this cake, and literally bent over backwards to make everything perfect. Even though she was lacking in English, her heart and soul made up the difference. So much so that my coworker (now friend, actually) went back to the store later to make sure this girl received the praise she deserved for working so hard.

Say what you will about the Islamic faith, but I suspect you'd find there the same things you find in Catholicism; the snark on one extreme, too much permissiveness to the degree of heresy/schizm on another, but ultimately, these people are just like us. They practice their faith, the believe that their faith is true, and they respect the fact that not everyone shares what they believe. And yet, my guess is that we all have a certain respect for "Holy Men" of all religions, whether we agree with their beliefs or not.

In my lifetime, I've met some courageous immigrants, and I've met Americans who have lived in places such as Saudi Arabia, and received the Sacraments in hiding for fear of death. I know a priest who lost most of his family while fleeing SW Asia. I've met people from other countries who love America and are thrilled to be here, but still remember their homeland and fight to maintain that important connection, lest it be lost in this fondue pot we call the United States.

The Ancoress has inspired me once again to remember to ask immigrants about their stories; what brought them here? All too often I get so irritated with the political culture, the agenda of death, the anti-Christianity and specifically the anti-Catholicism, that I lose sight of the fact that we have more freedome than most countries of the world. Yes, we have to fight and argue and stand up for ourselves even within our own countries, but overall, we are not fighting for our lives. We are not dying to practice our faith. We have not had to flee our homeland in order to celebrate and live out the dignity that God gave us. We are not barred from our borders and labeled "criminal" just because we disagree with the regime.

With all the problems this country faces, I must say that the immigrants help me to remember why I'm here and why I've never left; because there is noplace else to go. The grass may very well be greenest here, and the most important facet of this country is our religious freedom. In spite of persecution, we are strong and can be strong in our faith. We have a right to speak up and condemn all sorts of immoral things. Even Canada doesn't maintain that right anymore.

Thank God I'm American, and thank God for immigrants!

8 comments:

Hidden One said...

"Even Canada doesn't maintain that right anymore."

*sigh... too true.

Ironically, the safest place for me to speak my mind, outside a church, is in my school, for plenty of reasons I don't have the time to go into just now.

Adoro te Devote said...

You know, you can come here and say whatever you'd like. Just as long as I agree with what you're saying.

:-P

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Brilliant post..Birmingham is England's 2nd city & will be more black than white in population..i have many friends who are immigrants & of course there are many who annoy just like anyone else..

Carolina Cannonball said...

just popping in to wish you Merryh Christmas!

Adoro said...

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Melody said...

Adoro, thanks for the thoughtful and compassionate post. As the granddaughter of an immigrant, I can relate to what you are saying.
I also have heard and read a lot of comments about Islam which aren't very kind (not that some of it doesn't apply). But I think you are right; there are extremists, but most of them just want to live their lives.
I hope you have a blessed Christmas, and a safe journey!

Cow Bike Rider (alias, Chris Sagsveen) said...

Adoro-
Nicely written. Thank you for those thought today and Merry Christmas!

Woodrow said...

Adoro, great post! I live in Dearborn, Michigan which has the largest concentration of Arab-Muslims in the US. (Other cities in the US have a higher population; Dearborn has the greatest concentration). I taught conversational English for a year back '99. It was great fun, and I enjoyed meeting people from all over the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. Immigrants are amazing! Usually, they make me feel stupid because most of them, whether European, African, Asian, etc., speak at least three other languages in addition to their Mother Tongue! You've inspired me to somehow get back involved with teaching English.