Nobody Wants to be an Immigrant

 photo iStock-629690452.jpg
by Lulete Mola

My family and I emigrated from Ethiopia to the bold north of the U.S. in 1999. In the 18 years we have been here we have lost family members back home that we never had a chance to see again. Most recently, we lost my beautiful grandmother. A few months after, we lost a dear aunt to cancer. My grandmother passed in Ethiopia and her children and grandchildren couldn’t travel back to bury her. My aunt, who immigrated to The Netherlands over 20 years ago, is also going to have a funeral service without the presence of the family and friends she knows and loves. That is what immigration does. It tears families apart across oceans.

Still, as part of our cultural mourning ritual, we gathered in one home to cry, share memories, and tell stories. At this time, I watched my family cry, be vulnerable, struggle, share regrets, and miss home. Seeing them in this way was a stark contrast to the resilience many immigrants have to display to survive in this country. It was during this time I thought of the Trump administration’s horrific stance on immigration. I also thought of the current global anti-immigration sentiments. With this in mind, I wonder if folks know…

Nobody wants to be an immigrant.

Nobody wants to be a refugee.

Nobody wants to seek asylum.

Nobody wants to leave home.

Nobody wants to bury their mother over the phone.

Nobody wants to be an immigrant.

We don’t choose to leave the soil our ancestors touched.

Leave the neighbors who helped birth us.

Leave our aunts who braided our hair, gave us food, and then hid our troublemaking from mom and dad.

We love the land we were born on.

We love the home we grew up in.

The games we played with the neighborhood children.

The village it took. Stories from elders.

We love the old man who named us.

We love the cornerstone where we saw our first love for the first time.

Remember? You didn’t have enough money for two bottles of Fanta so you only bought one for the lady and said you weren’t really thirsty? Then you fell in love.

Nobody chooses to leave love.

Leave teenage memories.

Nobody willfully turns their back on the land of their father.

Nobody turns their back on the land of their mother.

Nobody turns and leaves their father and mother never to see them again.

Then hear they’re sick

But you can’t go back

You’re not a citizen

You don’t have a green card

You can’t afford the flight

So you worry sick

Send the little money you have

You get a phone call in the middle of the night

The connection is bad, so you talk louder, are they okay?

Tell me the truth

They’re gone.

You didn’t say goodbye.

Or tell them your story.

You were supposed to go back.

You bury them over the phone.

Then you mourn
Mourn your parents. Mourn your homeland. Mourn the promises you made

Nobody wants to be an immigrant

Nobody chooses to leave home

We left because we couldn’t survive.

We left because we couldn’t thrive.

We left because we were pushed out.

We left because we were pulled in.

We left because of false advertising.

False promises.

False diversity.

We left seeking refuge.

We left because you spent years creating conditions that made our own land unlivable.

We left because of war.

We left because of dreams.

We left with the plans of returning.

We left with nothing but faith.

We were desperate.

Some of us never made it to the new land.

Some of us are in the middle, in the water.

It wasn’t a bag packing trip.

It wasn’t to eat, love, and pray.

It wasn’t for cultural awareness and exposure

It wasn’t a couch surfing experience.

We paid our lives, our dignity, our family, our history

Just. To. Be. Here.

So we immigrate.

We seek refuge.

We fill out paperwork.

We work any job you let us.

We humble ourselves.

We pay our respects.

We bury our people over the phone.

We integrate.

You force some of us to assimilate.

A melting pot that burns.

Still, we hold on to parts of our culture.

We find community.

We open businesses.

We give to you.

You take from us.

We make ourselves believe this could be home too.

We raise our children who now share the same nationality and country of origin as you.

Then you call them terrorists.

You are scared of them.

But often, when we come together, we remember home.

We remember the land that was once ours and we of the land.

You see, nobody chooses to be an immigrant.

So when you tell us that you don’t want us here

We wonder if you know

If we could have, if our very lives didn’t depend on it, we would have stayed home.

Lulete Mola is committed to social change that is intersectional, inclusive, complex, and just. This commitment directly contributes to her ongoing devotion to community organizing and work to advance women's leadership. Lulete also leads civic engagement and professional development initiatives in Minnesota’s East African community and is active in the movement for Black lives. Lulete graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Minnesota in 2014.

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