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As an Immigrant, I Question If I Should Keep My Family in the U.S.

Person holding american flag.

When is the writing on the wall?

Today, now, in the United States of America, this is not an idle question. My family, like so many others, has been joking about moving to Canada. And our kids listen and cheer and imagine that we’ll move back in four years. And we can, easily, since I’m Canadian. Well, easily enough. But we have a strong community, a strong, neighborhood, a strong life here in Philadelphia.

And yet. In the United States of America, in 2017, people of color, Muslims, Jews, women, immigrants, trans people, queer people, disabled people, and fat people are growing less safe by the day. Because the President (the PRESIDENT) of the United State of America has publicly mocked many of these groups, and has accepted (willingly, and with open arms) the support of those who threaten, demean, and attack the others.

So is now when the writing is on the wall?

Is it time for us to go?

Again, this is not an idle question—not for me (a non-citizen), not for my husband (a non-citizen), and not for my Jewish children of immigrants. We are lucky, in that way. We have other places to go. But like so many others now and in history, we don’t want to leave. We like it here. Maybe we even believe in it here. Maybe it’s worth fighting for.

What’s the greater act of courage: to stay and resist, or to leave and protect?

I want to protect my children. We talk about the implications of this presidency all the time. The kids on the bus told my oldest daughter that with Trump elected, all the Jews and Muslims will have to leave the US. That isn’t true, and we told her that. She also told me which kids had parents who voted for Trump. She wanted to know how to make sense of that as well. And I wasn’t sure what to do: I’ve pledged to resist Trump and this administration. I’ve pledged not to accommodate or reconcile, and I believe in that. But I don’t know if that means not having her friends’ families over for Shabbat dinner. Probably not, but I hate the idea of a dinner table around which there are Things We Do Not Say. And I hate the idea that my daughter might be identifying who is on her team and who isn’t, even in her private Jewish day school. But that’s what I’m doing, and I think I have to.

Jordana Horn recently wrote quite movingly about her commitment to the Girl Scouts of America, despite their decision to march in the inauguration. She prefers to work from within and build upon the good rather than let it be overcome by the bad.

There’s so much that is good here. Good for me, personally, which is why I came to the US in the first place, to do a PhD. at the institution of my dreams. For that I am so grateful; I loved every second of it, and I couldn’t have done it anywhere else. And it’s been good for my family, which is why we’ve stayed. I can write this article, safely, and that’s a big deal. But at the same time, I’m nervous about identifying myself as an immigrant. Really. But I am an immigrant, and a very lucky one. And that matters so, so much. That’s worth building on. That’s worth fighting for. That’s worth not walking (or running) away from.

But ancestral memory is strong. So much stronger than I imagined until I began to look for the writing on the wall. We know it (kind of, sort of) from our history books and lessons about what happens when your neighbors become, in Daniel Goldhagen’s stirring and provocative phrase, willing executioners. And we know it (in the ways that matter most) in our bones, in our bodies, which were birthed by the bodies that were birthed by the bodies that had evil inscribed on them. Indelibly. In numbers. That sought—and failed—to remove all humanity from these bodies, these mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, lovers, friends, daughters, sons, Jews. Neighbors.

Neighbors killed by neighbors. Not for the first time, and not for the last.

I don’t feel unsafe, not really. I don’t fear for the safety of my children, not more than I ought to. In many ways, this country is the best possible place for them to be. For us to be. For us to believe in right now. And yet. And yet and yet and yet.

What if the writing is on the wall?

What if I can help erase it?


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