We affectionately refer to America as the ‘Great Melting Pot’ because we have embraced immigrants from all over the world. But as our arms stretch out to provide them with warmth in a new land, we have neglected to learn from their sad stories as they rest their heads on America’s shoulders.
We can listen to their stories of despair and human suffering – but listening and hear are two different things.
Every Thanksgiving, we are inspired to reach out to friends and family and give thanks for what we have and to cherish the memories we have made together. But I think it’s also fair for us to give thanks for the memories we make Don’t passed.
Most of us don’t have memories of growing up in a refugee camp like my Somalian friend who now lives in America. We don’t have stories of religious persecution from our state because we respect everyone’s right to believe what they want. It would be a vivid fantasy to imagine life surrounded by war and the paranoia of whether that day would be your last.
Although we struggled financially at times as a child, I have no memories of walking miles to fetch fresh water for the day and bearing the brunt of the weather outside due to not living in a properly insulated home.
We can’t be a great melting pot if we don’t imbibe some of the lessons learned from those who fled here from dysfunctional environments. We can be grateful for the extra material things we have. But are we grateful for the essentials that come with living in America, like clean water, indoor plumbing, and not having to worry about war on your doorstep?
Are we thankful that we don’t have to bribe police officers or else go to jail? Are we grateful that food is readily available and we don’t need to use the word “famine”?
We have no idea what it’s like to wake up and see the value of your money decrease dramatically overnight due to international sanctions like your Iranian friend. While inflation is a problem and we have every reason to complain about it, it doesn’t compare to a near-immediate reduction in value that can render you into poverty while you sleep – simply because you’re caught by a rogue. Administration lives in a ruled country.
As much as we complain about discord between Democrats and Republicans, we should view it as a blessing that we have options. In many countries, it is a one-party regime, a one-faith regime, a totalitarian regime – or worse, a complete failed state where lawlessness, enslavement and human suffering are the norm.
Even the concept of openly criticizing or ridiculing political leaders is second nature to us. We cannot imagine indefinite imprisonment for hurting the sensibilities of a delicate leader.
The term “privileged” has been overused and misused in recent years, but I believe this is one of those times where it applies to say: Americans must have their basic needs met. We are privileged to have, and if they are not met, we are privileged to have the recourse to fight for these high standards.
I am very conscious that I am privileged to be annoyed with a power failure in my home once a year when in other countries the power may be off for a day. I know when I walk into a grocery store, the abundance of food and produce selections in Communist Cuba is nowhere near the American South. It didn’t occur to me that the hot shower I look forward to is a luxury for many people.
I recognize that I have a lot that other people want – and I do my best not to take those things for granted.
You don’t need a passport to hear the perspective of those who came from less fortunate circumstances: All you have to do is listen to your neighbor who’s been through hell and made it into the arms of America.
Our nation’s immigrants have a story to tell and a warning for us to heed. Now is the time to listen to them and be grateful for their messages.
Adam B. Coleman is the author of “Black Victim to Black Victor” and founder of Wrong Speak Publishing. Follow him on Substack: adambcoleman.substack.com.