For a Spanish-language version of this article, read "Manos a la Obra."
I have not slept a full night for weeks, doing something that has become a recurring but necessary nightmare — helping desperate friends and family escape war zones or disasters. “No more immigrants!” hateful voices shout in the media as we plead for loved ones. The Republican Party specifically criticizes the inevitable withdrawal that former president Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban while he simultaneously gutted the capability of our State Department to act, depriving it of funds and experienced diplomats if they did not unequivocally support his right-wing America First policies and his illegal maneuvers at the international level. The press and Congress will document all this in due time.
But at present, for the resulting humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, there is no immediate remedy. During Hispanic Heritage Month, when I reflect on what being Latino in America means, I cannot separate the reality of the many Afghans abandoned in that country (which we occupied militarily for 20 years) from the idea that I am the daughter and wife of Cuban immigrants. Many Cuban immigrants in our country, as well as other Latinos and Haitians, have stories of escaping similar situations or of being cruelly deported.
However, in these unbearable moments I am not alone, because along with my identity and my culture, my deceased female relatives wake up, sit next to me and keep me company. As my hands fly over the keys writing message after message, I see on my finger my grandmother Esperanza’s ring. In 1959 she sent her only daughter and all her cousins on a plane to an uncertain destination, the United States. My mother-in-law Carmen, who escaped with her little children in pajamas, also sits next to me. Pencil and paper in hand, she makes lists of upcoming calls and items of urgent need; she is an expert because for three decades we packed together “the pounds” of goods we were allowed to send to those who never managed to leave Cuba.
Whether we have fled Cuba, escaped the human catastrophe after Hurricane Maria, filed asylum cases at the border, or were evacuated from Afghanistan, each generation of immigrants has made this country better. We work, pay taxes and move heaven and earth. We have formed allies who understand the value we bring to the country with our work, talent and genuine love for a free and peaceful democracy.
I don’t know if someone will protect my friends or if they will be executed by the Taliban. But our “Hispanidad” is permanently united to our humanity. I ask our community to share this article and join those who, whether in small donations or hours of their time, will help to welcome the refugees arriving soon to communities all over the country. Please assist the resettlement efforts and welcome them with the dignity, compassion and resources you would have wished for your own relatives when they journeyed to the United States, whether they received such assistance or not.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” These should not be calcified words on a plate to admire but rather instructions on carrying out our beautiful American Experiment. Make them true.
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