In December of 1997, I boarded a plane from Ireland with my family bound for America. My dad had been offered a job in Chicago and he took it without question. When we arrived I faced the daunting task of starting school in a completely different country where I knew nobody. I didn’t think I would fit in with the other kids because of my accent and because the school system and culture is completely different. But from the first day I walked into my 5th grade class I found out that I had something good going for me: in America being Irish is considered to be “cool.” I was the center of attention and the other students all gathered around me asking me all sorts of questions ranging from “do they have TVs in Ireland?” to “what language do they speak there?” Everyone made me feel welcome and halfway through the school day when my mom came to pick me up I told her that I didn’t want to leave! I was welcomed with open arms, but for millions of immigrants who come to the United States, the welcome is much different.
As I grew older my Irish accent slipped away, my family received green cards and established ourselves in the suburbs of Chicago. I was completely ignorant of the immigration system in America at that time and getting our green cards had no impression on me whatsoever. It was only after 9/11 when I started taking a closer look at immigration and the stereotypes it brings with it. I found out how difficult and expensive a green card is and that I was one of a lucky few in the millions of immigrants who desperately want one.
Since 9/11 the issue of immigration has received a massive amount of attention. Immigrant bashing in the media and by politicians has become common. But I have never heard or read of anyone having anything against immigrants coming from Ireland. When I arrived here I was treated as an equal. For me the only visible difference between myself and a person coming from Central America or the Middle East is skin color. Immigrants from these regions come to America for the same reason my family did, in search of a better life. But when they arrive, they are met with a barrage of stereotypes and are seen as “different” and their children do not fit in at school and are often times not welcomed by their classmates.
The sad thing is that America’s economy depends heavily on immigrants but all we hear about on the news is the need for a fence on the border and to keep everyone out. People are so afraid to accept those who do not look like them. My green card gives me exactly the same rights as a Mexican with a green card but for most Americans, he isn’t “cool.” Immigrants are no different from American citizens; everyone that lives in this country strives to live the American dream. It will only be after we move beyond our prejudices and stereotypes that we can work together to make America a better place for everyone regardless of background.