President Donald Trump’s recent decision to end DACA seems to show, above anything else, that he and those around him struggle to understand the perspective of those whose lives they are drastically changing. Empathy can be difficult, especially if the other person’s life seems too far away and separated from one’s own. Some feel as if immigrants are “other:” different people who share nothing in common with ordinary Americans. Today’s political situation does not help either: immigrants are depicted as terrorists and criminals rather than as people.
I am a new international student from Turkey, just barely setting out on a long journey of confusion, learning and hopefully adjustment. Being so away from home and not having the convenience of switching back to my mother tongue whenever I need that extra emotion and connotation of a particular Turkish word still feels odd in my mind. All of this and so much more makes me feel connected to the “others” whom the Trump administration affect. With the hope that establishing some empathy might help in the days to come, I feel that I must try to make these “others” seem closer to and more like everyone else.
There is only one thing you would follow across the world: the hope you will have a better life, even if it means leaving your family and your home forever. It’s a tricky thing, this hope: it makes your goal seem right around the corner, over the horizon or one more action away. However, if you come from a place where what’s been presented to you is not enough, where you could never flourish, where you could not accept who you are or survive another month, you must follow hope where it leads you. The choice to do so comes with consequences, both predictable and unforeseen. Whether through a legal visa process as an international student or a midnight car ride across the border of an unknown land, such a change is a huge weight to carry upon one’s shoulders. Every moment that I experience here is another reminder of what I’ve left behind. It’s hard to adjust to a completely new place, a completely new culture, new people, new climate and new ideologies. Even if the language is not a new one, getting used to different connotations takes a lot of time. Some things that were evident to others are not so obvious to me.
I worked hard to get here. My high school life was comprised mostly of studying and running around to accomplish the things I wanted to do outside of the classroom. I am sure anyone can relate to wanting something for yourself and working as hard as you possibly can to get it. That’s what many have to do every day — not just to come here, but also to stay here. When I came to this campus, I knew the real work was just about to begin. For me, that work is being a student. However, others may have different ways of working hard, such as trying to work long hours for low wages while staying under the radar of the police.
There’s a reason so many still choose to come to the U.S., despite the odds. The “land of the free,” where the “American Dream” is a reality — those phrases are not a joke to me. From time to time, I may seem to be annoyed by them or sarcastically mention them, but I keep believing that here, anyone has the power to change their life and possibly make the world a better place.
So, where does this image of America come from? Why do I, a person living halfway across the world who has never been here, have this image in mind?
All the people I looked up to as I was growing up were American. I used to watch cartoons featuring superheroes, and they all lived in America. Even if they were aliens, they were just as American. I would read magazines about places to visit, and New York City would be every list. Celebrities and politicians would send their children abroad for their education; American music was treated as a better form than our own. Everything in America was better than what we could possibly have.
The media gets a bad reputation these days. However, it is what painted America as the place where someone would go if they wanted a good future, the place where you would send your child if you wanted them to have a good future.
Like many others, I am here because I believe in the same things that you do.
We believe that a place should exist on this planet where the color of your skin, your religion, your sexuality, your political alliance, your citizenship and your gender do not matter. A place people could live in peace and quiet, where one would never feel the obligation to comment on another’s way of living. A place where there’s no “other.” A place where success could be yours if you worked hard enough, even if you came from nothing. This is the dream for everyone in this place, even though some of us were not born into it.