Give me a voice, give me a life. Give me a voice so I live life. Give me a voice so I transmit HIS light.
Editor’s Note: This is a speech that Maryam Bighash gave in a speech competition.
I have always dreamed of sharing these thoughts, so that one day they become actions.
Today, I will be talking about The United States: a nation of immigrants!
As President Obama says: “Our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.”
The United States regularly fails to uphold its immigration human rights laws, and is even listed on the world watch for the poor treatment of immigrants.
Immigration is an unfair trade, the parents pay the costs, the children reap the benefits while the grandkids take it all for granted.
I just want to make it clear, this speech does not advocate for more immigrants nor debates a specific immigration policy.
But instead, I, as a human being am asking my fellow American Christians to treat immigrants with more respect and empathy by remembering what it means to be an immigrant.
Please allow me to share my story.
I wasn’t born here, I am an immigrant. I didn’t speak the language. Many took advantage of this by deciding for me.
I was born with a sticker on my forehead: it said ready to be shipped.
Though it is easier to ship a box of bananas than it was to reunite my family even after eight years.
As other kids were playing, I was being fingerprinted.
I was born in a country where people who simply mention the word “Freedom” are rewarded by the smell of feces inside of a prison cell.
I was born with a life, but I had no voice to have a future.
I was born with a dream, but what’s a dream when you can’t talk about it?
Even though my fate opposed my rise, I kept being.
I kept believing, I kept wishing to one day speak next to Malala, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who advocated for women’s education in Pakistan.
She herself was a child who abandoned the children’s playground to clean the mess adults have created, Like many of us, the younger immigrants.
I’m one of the many who knows that freedom is made out of truth.
The truth being that immigrants are humans who have rights, too.
We, the oppressed, can see the colors of Freedom, but our hands are too weak to grasp what we see , and so Are …our words.
We all wish for a world where asking questions and knowing the answers doesn’t cost our lives.
We all wish for a world where being heard is no longer a crime.
So we escape our bittersweet homes for a better place, the United States seeming the best.
We come here to make something out of our cursed fate.
Please understand our motives of leaving home, not all of us come here to collect on social welfare; we could have just gone to Europe. (They’re supposed to laugh)
For you may not know know what it’s like being born a stranger in your own land, but I know.
For you may not know what it feels like to be tortured for years because of your sexual preferences or faith but Samar and Ali know.
For you may not know what it means to see your two year old daughter die in the war but Sarah and Aziz know.
For you may not know how it feels to have the responsibility of feeding a family of 20 with less than 200 dollars a month but Miguel and Lydia know.
For you may not know how it feels to not be able to attend school because you’re a woman, but little Halima knows.
You just experienced the lives of seven people in less than 20 seconds.
Imagine how much more lives you could experience if I kept going on for another hour or day knowing that over a million humans immigrate to the U.S. every year each one having their own story and motive?
One day, I left home for a new one. Since then, home has become where I lay my head at night.
And tonight I will be laying my head in the American land.
This same country has taught me that I have a voice which can be heard and No one can tell me otherwise.
Yet, I can’t vote on immigration policies.
When I found my voice, I found my identity.
But finding this voice hasn’t been easy.
It often required being humiliated.
It required being misunderstood or not understood at all.
Mainly because my ESL classes have always been too crowded for me to learn anything.
It required being called names, one of them being the Foreigner.
It required keeping my mouth shut fearing being targeted because it’s hard to hide a heavy accent.
This is the kind of life I had.
In Iran, I felt the physical and verbal oppression.
Yet, my new home remained in the shadow of these things.
My new home gave me the illusion of being the same as everybody else.
Let me tell you, the opportunities are not as dense when you don’t speak the language fluently or don’t have citizenship.
Since scholarships to attend college suddenly become so rare.
See, I feared speaking at home but then feared being heard in my new one.
I try to overcome these things since I know who I want to be:
The immigrant who pursued the American dream.
The immigrant who made this land proud of having me.
The immigrant who considered herself the American to be.
See, I didn’t come here to be oppressed in a gentler way and I will not allow this.
People say: “ there are too many immigrants, we can barely breathe.”
But let me tell THEM why most of us are here in the first place.
Politicians make deals that favor dictators over the civilians if this means that oil can flow freely.
My parents both grew up during the Iran-Iraq war.
They saw that by destabilizing Iran in the late 1970s, the U.S. and other countries contributed to the country’s Islamic Revolution.
American choices in the Middle East created more homelessness leading more people to flee.
It is now clear that the U.S. intelligence officials helped Hussein’s military with the use of chemical weapons on civilians which actually went unpunished.
What I am asking you here is to reflect on these facts.
Believe me when I tell you that the countries who “welcome” us, the immigrants, could be the same countries who have contributed to the chaos in our homes.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming anyone. I’m blaming collective ignorance.
What most breaks my heart is when ignorance is associated with Christianity.
I still remember sitting in Starbucks with my sister when this old lady approached me.
She asked me if I had purchased anything and I replied yes.
She then said: You have an accent. You’re not from here.
Why don’t you just go back home since we Americans can barely afford ourselves in this country.
You steal our money so you buy yourself fancy drinks while my people are all lying in the streets.
I looked at her cross around her neck, and I didn’t say anything.
YOU imagine how I felt for the rest of the week.
I told you my stories because I represent the heart and the soul of each immigrant in this country.
Now, close your eyes for a second, imagine that the sounds of cars down your street are actually sounds of tanks.
Imagine you cannot marry the love of your life since she or he’s of a different faith.
Imagine you want to create a better world for your family but can’t even afford to feed them.
You would probably think about immigrating, too.
All humans have the right to pursue the best.
And if the best means becoming an immigrant, then let it be.
I’m not finished here. This second message is targeted at all my fellow immigrants.
When you come to a foreign land, work to be integrated.
Work twice as hard to be recognized.
Work ten times harder to create an educated next generation.
Prove to your host country that you are a blessing and not an extra weight.
Make good money, live a good life and help all your neighbors no matter if they’re Americans or not.
We become the results of our own actions.
If we, the immigrants, have been associated with stereotypes, maybe we have done some things wrong.
And maybe Americans need to be more educated about the topic, Christians especially.
If we all change a little, at the end the results could be greater than what we have ever seen.
So now, I’m begging you, don`t let the tree of justice die at its root.
Don’t let the dove of freedom lose its feathers, or how would it fly again?
Let’s stop this trend of treating immigrants like they will never fit in.
For you are Christ’s image on Earth. Love the immigrants, care for them, understand them, advocate for their human rights, and respect them.
If immigrants feel more at peace in the country they reside in, they are more likely to contribute to the betterment of this nation, our nation.
The reason this country continues to have a population which is diverse and thrives compare to many eastern countries is because of immigration.
There is no way we can talk about immigration theory, policies or thought without understanding immigrants as people.
With this knowledge, we will finally be equipped to make meaningful, effective decisions about immigration issues.
The Lord Jesus in Matthew 25:40 once said: ‘I tell you the truth, when you did good to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!
Now let me ask you, is there any greater honor than having this said of you?
Please join me in this fight for I cannot do it without you.