It was an ordinary day in my small yarn shop, the door opened and a young woman with amazing crimson colored red hair walked inside. I don’t remember much about her visit except she brought light and joy into my space. Little did I know then that I had just met a dear friend for life.
In addition to her red hair and lively personality, she spoke with an accent, had tattoos on her earlobes and an eyebrow piercing. She was adorable, personable and loved yarn. What more could I ask for in a new relationship?
As our relationship grew I learned she had come to the United States from Ukraine on an H-1B student visa. She left home to go to university then traveled and worked for a few years. She has a personality that is the perfect blend of free spirit and the courage to actually act on her impulses; qualities I admire and wish I posses. Her story in the United States is a Cinderella story of sorts. The first person she met at the airport was another immigrant from Ukraine who later became her husband and the father of her children. Maddie and Maks came here to further their studies at Boston College and then he went on to M.I.T. Maks is truly one of the smartest people on the planet and one of only a handful of people in the world who does what he does in the oil industry. After Boston they also lived in Chicago and Los Angeles before coming to Houston…or more specifically Katy, a western suburb of Houston.
Last year, after more than ten years of working, scrimping and saving and living a very meager lifestyle (by American standards), Maks and Maddie proudly became citizens of the United States. They maintain their Ukrainian culture, the language, food, clothing, rituals, everything that defines their heritage. But they chose to become citizens because they realize the opportunities and freedoms here are precious and not found everywhere in the world. This is where they chose to build their life and raise a family. They want better for their children than what their home country offers.
When Maddie’s parents visited here for the first time, her father marveled at the United States flags flying everywhere. Maddie explained that here people are proud of their country and children are raised to be proud Americans. We are different people united as one country. At least we used to be; now it feels very different and Maddie and Maks are confused and concerned. They have seen the other side and it was horrible.
Her stories of life in Ukraine, specifically the lives of her parents and grandparents living under a truly oppressive regime were horrifying. They embody all that I dread could happen in the United States if we are not careful. It breaks my heart to see this optimistic, proud U.S. citizen frightened over the chaos she is seeing play out in cities across the country. She doesn’t understand the hatred. She is an educated woman; she studies that which she does not understand and is still confused by the narrative of the day. When I first got to know her, her political views skewed left. This was not a surprise. We had lovely conversations and though we didn’t always agree we respected and learned from one another. They are now learning to take in information and evaluate what they see and hear without a political party filter. The party that seemed to fit them last year seems to have disappeared inside this angry mob.
Maddie offered an analogy she uses when discussing the H-1B visa situation, usually with fellow immigrants. While there is definitely a time and a place for this kind of visa program, when the United States is suffering with high unemployment as it is now, the visa process should be temporarily suspended.
“Just like in an airplane when passenger’s are instructed to put on their oxygen mask first in order to help others, so should the United States ‘put on their mask’ and take care of itself before helping those outside the country.”
It is time we, the somewhat silent majority, ‘put on our oxygen masks’ and take care of our own, and by ‘our own’ I mean citizens of all races, creeds, and genders. Stand up for this country we love. Don’t be afraid to speak up. That is what the bullies want is for us to cower in fear. We see corporations and politicians doing this all day everyday. It is despicable and no good end will come if we are silent.
You don’t have to take to the streets, unless you feel called to do it. I do not. I write this blog. I follow and support the voices of reason both black and white, I engage friends and family in conversation and I treat everyone I meet with kindness and respect. The one area I have changed is that I go out of my way to make eye contact with black folks I encounter in everyday life. If my gaze is met I speak, sometimes I speak even if they don’t look up. Until I heard some personal stories from my neighborhood, I didn’t realize that not doing the above could make a black person, or any person of color, feel unwelcome. With people who look like me I routinely avoid eye contact…I just want to get in, shop, and get out. But now I make sure I am extending human kindness to all but especially those who might feel excluded if I do not.
God Bless America, please.