The other day a onetime neighbor waved as she drove by in her new car. Might not sound like such a big deal, but it was.

When I first met this woman, she was new to our neighborhood in Rogers Park as well as the city and country.

Rogers Park takes pride in its diversity, making it a good place for newcomers to get their bearings. People generally don’t get their shorts in a knot when someone struggles with English. It’s the kind of place where residents have held meetings and rallies since November’s election to show our immigrant and refugee neighbors we stand with them.


Still, in the beginning much was unfamiliar and sometimes overwhelming for this woman. But there was no turning back.

Those words on the Statue of Liberty that promise the United States will take “your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” really do get to the heart of why so many come here. Lately too many forget — or refuse to acknowledge — that oppression and violence ended the lives immigrants and refugees once knew.

When the unwelcoming among us demand immigrants go back where they came
from they are asking for the impossible.

Though eager for a better life and so happy once they’re in the Land of the Free (we’re still that, right?), they miss family and friends left in vulnerable situations and wonder if they’ll ever see them or their homeland again.

In the case of my driving friend, eventually I learned her husband had had a good career in the old country. But, as often happens to immigrants, schooling/certification doesn’t quite match what is required here and there isn’t time or money to remedy the situation. That’s how the two of them ended up as custodians for apartment buildings.

Having a career I sought and studied for, I used to wonder how one reconciles knowing you’re educated for more but have to take employment that’ll never use your skills. I’ve come to understand people accept much to survive, and are motivated by the knowledge their children will have a better life.

But I digress; back to my old neighbor’s story.

For as long as I’ve known them, she and her husband worked long hours usually six days a week. Little by little they stopped working for someone else and started running their own business. This, too, took a lot of time, so it wasn’t unusual to see one or the other coming from work late at night only to be out again early the next morning to start the process again, always juggling who had the kids. Eventually they saved enough to leave their cramped apartment and buy a house nearby.

As the years have gone by, I’ve seen her fear dissipate. She’s grown comfortable with the confidence and independence American-born women take for granted.

And now she’s motoring through the neighborhood in her own modest little car. If the Statue of Liberty could move, she’d give my old neighbor a big thumbs up.

In these times, the picture painted of immigrants and refugees is dark and ominous. We’re kicking out the harmless undocumented as well as the troubled ones.

Frankly, I don’t know whether this woman was legal or not; never asked. All I knew was she came here to save her family and like most immigrants has worked hard to make the American dream hers.

In a country where “family values” are supposedly so valued, you’d think we’d get this.


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