By Celeste Kanpurwala
This Fourth of July got me thinking long and hard about the history of our country and our people. It made me realize that so many of us take our freedoms and our American citizenship for granted.
Many of us who were born here, who are lucky to be born with white skin, who don’t face discrimination or separation or any of the many phobias running rampant these days – we don’t have to think about these things that plague the minds of people of color and people who immigrated or fled here from other countries.
I had the privilege to attend the Families Belong Together Rally on Saturday, June 30 in the Diag. Nearly 750 such rallies and marches took over the country that day, protesting the injustices taking place at our borders which have separated over 2000 children from their parents. Contrary to what some media outlets are saying, this inhumane practice was a decision put in place by our current administration that will affect the lives of these families for many years to come.
These families are seeking LEGAL asylum from the countries that they are fleeing. They are coming to us – the “home of the free and the brave” – to rescue them, and what did we do to them? We tore their screaming children away and put them in cages. The word despicable comes to mind.
In contrast to my anger with our administration, it warmed my heart to see thousands of other concerned citizens and their families banding together at the rally in Ann Arbor, many of them immigrants or descendants themselves. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell was passionately speaking (shouting, really) as our family entered the rally.
She questioned, “Where is our humanity, our empathy, and our compassion?” Dingell went on to say that we cannot give up because then “he wins!” She closed by saying that we will not stop protesting until the families are all reunified.
Chris Justice and his wife, Ingrid, from Dexter, came to the rally with a sign saying,
“Lock Up Trump, Not Kids” with the hashtag “Cold Iron Shackles” and “Ball and Chain.” Ingrid said that this was probably the seventh rally that they’ve attended since last January at the Women’s March. She thinks that in order to make real change, it’s going to take people willing to be arrested like what recently happened at the Senate Building on Capitol Hill, where nearly 600 women were arrested while protesting Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.
I attended the rally with my husband and his parents, as well as our two children. This was special for us because my in laws, Bakir and Sakina Kanpurwala, immigrated here from India almost 50 years ago. They came to America because they saw opportunity for their family. Bakir received his immigration visa in Calcutta, India to start work as an engineer in Boston, leaving behind his wife and one year old baby (my sister-in-law, Nisrin). Sakina and Nisrin didn’t join him here in America for a year and a half, during which time they mainly communicated only via letters in the mail.
They sacrificed their family time to truly make America great, adding their skill sets to our country, which has created dozens of jobs as a result. See, my in laws started their own business from their basement with their nephew, Mike, back in 1984. That business has now grown to a multi-million dollar corporation headquartered here in Ann Arbor. My husband, Mark (Mansoor), has taken over for his dad after he retired in 2010, now co-owning the business with his cousin Mike. In addition, all three of Bakir’s brothers immigrated here as well and started or brought their families here, all contributing to our society and creating jobs. It’s a beautiful example of how chain migration has benefitted our country.
I asked my in laws their thoughts on the family separation taking place. Bakir said he believes it’s very wrong, and Sakina said that she has had to turn the TV off because she couldn’t sleep after watching the screaming, crying children. She said that if something like that had happened to her when she came here with Nisrin in 1971, she would have asked, “Why did I come to this country?”
Reflecting on all of this, Congresswoman Dingell’s passion gave me inspiration. It gave me ideas of what to do with my anger and my helpless feelings. On our country’s Independence Day, my husband and I, along with our children, marched with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in Ann Arbor’s 4th of July parade. Then we loaded up my minivan with used clothing, toys, and household items to donate to those less fortunate. Unfortunately all of the places I called to donate for refugees were not taking donations at this time, but House by the Side of Road came through.
This wonderful facility, located at 2051 South State Street, accepts donations for low income families and for those recently released from prison, who are welcome to take whatever they want for FREE. I highly suggest if you are fortunate enough to be able to donate your things that you consider doing so.
If you are angry and frustrated by what you see on the news, do something about it. Call your legislators, donate your things, write letters to the editor, join an organization. Most importantly, VOTE – in every election, not just the Presidential elections. Every vote and every voice counts. Vote like your life depends on it, because it just might.