We affectionately refer to America as the great melting pot, as we’ve embraced immigrants from all over the world. But as our arms extend to provide them warmth in a new land, we’ve neglected to learn from their harrowing tales as they rest their heads upon America’s shoulder.
We may hear their stories of despair and human suffering — but hearing and listening are two different things.
Every Thanksgiving, we’re implored to reach out to friends and family and give thanks for what we have and enshrine the memories we’ve created together. But I think it’s also appropriate for us to give thanks for the memories we don’t have.
Most of us don’t have memories of growing up in a refugee camp like my Somalian friend who now resides in America. We don’t have stories of our state’s religious persecution because we respect everyone’s right to believe what they want. It would take a vivid imagination to visualize a life surrounded by war and the paranoia of wondering if that day will be your last.
Although we economically struggled at times in my childhood, I don’t have memories of walking for miles by myself to get fresh water for the day and having to bear the brunt of the weather outside because of not living in a properly insulated home.
We can’t be a great melting pot if we don’t absorb some lessons learned from people who’ve fled here from failing environments. We may be thankful for the extra material items we possess. But are we thankful for the essentials that come with living in America, like clean water, indoor plumbing and not having to worry about war coming to your door?
Are we thankful we don’t have to bribe police officers or else go to jail? Are we thankful 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 our money dramatically reduced overnight due to international sanctions like my friend from Iran. Although inflation is a problem and we have every reason to complain about, it doesn’t compare to a near-instant reduction in value that can project you into poverty as you’re sleeping — simply because you live in a country ruled by an evil regime.
As much as we gripe about the bickering between Democrats and Republicans, we should see this as a blessing that we have options. In many nations, it is one-party rule, one-faith rule, one authoritarian rule — or worse, a complete failed state where disorder, slavery and human suffering is the norm.
Even the concept of openly criticizing or mocking political leaders is second nature for us. We can’t imagine facing indefinite imprisonment for offending the sensibilities of a fragile leader.
The word “privileged” has been overused and misappropriated in recent years, but I believe this is one of those times where it is applicable to say this: Americans are privileged to have their basics met, and if they aren’t met, we are privileged to have recourses for fighting for these high standards.
I am very conscious that it’s a privilege to be annoyed the one time of the year there’s a power outage in my home when in other nations the power can remain off for days at a time. I am aware that when I enter a grocery store, the abundance of food and product selections is nowhere near the same just south of America in Communist Cuba. It’s not lost on me that the warm shower I expect daily is a luxury for many.
I recognize that I have so much of what other people want — and I do my best to not take those things for granted.
You don’t need a passport to learn the perspectives of people who’ve come from less-fortunate situations: You simply have to listen to your neighbor who has gone through hell and made it into the arms of America.
The immigrants to our nation have a story to tell and warnings for us to heed. It’s about time we listen to them and be thankful 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.