This week we have all had to go through our medicals for our Green Card applications. Uncle Sam likes to make sure that we are up to scratch on immunisations, are clear of TB and other nasty diseases they would rather we did not distribute to the natives. Between the four of us we have had 10 needles stuck into our arms, involving six visits to two different doctors. As I explained to the junior non-natives why they had to have yet another 'shot' into their pink, plump, perfect skin, my mind began to sum up the long journey we have made to get to this point, to review all the decisions we have made which lead us here, to ask myself "Is it worth it?".
The Green Card Doctor's surgery was a production line of hope and despair. The sterile waiting room was peppered with non-natives, all willing to wait, shoulder to shoulder for two hours for a doctor to stick needles in them. At one end there was a large screen showing old Charlie Chaplin movies. Silent, comedic entertainment that dragged out the odd chuckle from the young and old alike. As we struggled to keep our jumpy kids occupied, a doctor or nurse would come to the waiting room and call aloud the next victim up for the pin-cushion olympics. As I watched each person take their turn, I thought about their story and the decisions they had made to get to be sharing the same experience. Most people seemed tense, confused, struggling to speak or understand English. The process is confusing enough for a person with English as a first language, for an elderly Chinese couple, the whole experience looked to be just too much.
Later in the day, we took a ferry to Governor's Island to go for a bike ride. As I stood, holding my hair out of my eyes, the Statue of Liberty commanded the horizon before me. I looked at her raised hand and forward stance, feeling the sense of hope that she was intended to inspire. She has stood guard in New York Harbour for 124 years, welcomed the poor, the hungry, the displaced and the hopeful. I could imagine the looks on the faces of those who had arrived on ships after gruelling journeys as she came into view. Like me, they would see in her a new beginning and gain comfort from her solidity, her affirmation of liberty and opportunity. My eye trained down to her ladyship's neighbour, Ellis Island, where on the 1st of January 1892, a fifteen year old Irish girl called Annie Moore was the first immigrant to be processed there. Annie's immigration process would have lasted three to five hours, she would have had her famous 'six second' medical, before being allowed to start her new life in the US. I wonder how Annie felt about her medical. Did she like her life here? Did it live up to her expectations? Did she get a fair shot at the 'American Dream'?
Being an immigrant means that you have a certain set of qualities. You are prepared to take risks. You are able to change, adapt and grow. You have courage. You make sacrifices. Like Annie, we will gain a lot from our 'Green Card', but we have made some personal sacrifices to get it. On the way to school I listened to my two kids discuss what they would like to be when they grow up. After trying on lots of hats (artist, author, cab driver, musician, scientist, teacher) they both unanimously decided that the best job they could possibly get was to be President of the United States of America. When I explained to them that, even if they gave it their best shot, this was a job that was not open to them, "You have to be born in the US to able to become President", they looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and disappointment. They feel that this is their country now, for better or worse and as a result they have the same sense of entitlement and belonging as the native kids. But alas, unless there is a change of law, they will have to give another type of job a shot.
"How about Charlie Chaplin?", I said. "What? The weird looking guy with the big foot and funny moustache we saw when we got our shots?". I told them how the 'weird guy' was born in the East End of London and moved to the US aged 21. He didn't get to become President, but he did become one of the most iconic movie stars of all time. You know, if you give it a fair shot, you just never know what the land of opportunity will deliver.
yours, lobbying Congress to amend Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution