They are stealing our jobs. They are driving down our wages. They are bringing crime, drugs, and disease into our neighborhoods. They are not paying taxes.
Due to recent events in today’s society, the first thing that enters our minds when we hear these phrases are often the immigrants found here in the United States, both legal and illegal.
Our media has portrayed these individuals in such a negative and detrimental light that we often begin to associate them with such harsh and rash stereotypes as those. They are put into boxes as a mass and referred to as numbers and statistics. But they aren’t numbers.
They aren’t statistics. They are people. Individuals, you and me alike. Too often we as an American public tend to focus so hard on the effects we believe they elicit once they have entered our country that we forget to ask one of the most important questions; why they chose to come here.
What drove them to leave their homes, their families, their friends, their jobs, their lives all behind only to move into a completely new and foreign environment?
The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that there is no one answer to this question. Each person has a unique story as to why he or she longed to come to America. I find that I often ask myself the same question: Why me? Why was I so fortunate to be born here in the United States as I was?
I didn’t choose where I would be born, and I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve or to earn the privilege to be here. And yet I find myself living in a nice home surrounded by a beautiful family, with the opportunity for a great education and the chance to choose any career path.
But there are people all around the world just like me, who dream just as big, and who work just as hard if not extraordinarily harder. They weren’t given the same chance I was given to follow their dreams, to live in safety, to endow the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the chance to be accepted all because of where they happened to be born.
Some were born into a country where there is war. Others where there is poverty, where they are discriminated against, or where crime is so unbearable that they don’t feel safe in their own homes, with their own families, or with their own police system.
And I ask myself, what if I hadn’t been so lucky?
What if instead I was born into one of these countries and I faced the same problems they face every single day?
Wouldn’t I want to leave that place?
Wouldn’t I be in search of something as great as the American Dream that according to James Trueslow Adams, is the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”?
Therefore, I ask that before we decide to label these individuals according to their stereotypes, we first take the time to listen to their stories, understand their struggles, because I can assure you that the majority of them are not here to bring crime, drugs, disease, violence or terrorism. They are here to escape all of that.
When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me, “Home is where the heart is. It’s not where you were born or even where you’ve lived the majority of your life. It’s where you feel the most safe, the most comfortable, the most loved.”
For many of these individuals, their heart is here in America. This is their home. This is our home. We are all one race, that is the human race.
Nicole Garza is a student at Central High School. She delivered this speech Feb. 5 at the 35th annual Fresno County Academic Decathlon. She received a standing ovation from the audience.