Thoughts on Immigration

When Lindi Von Mutius came to the Sierra Club last November as my new chief of staff, she described herself as an “immigrant, bleeding heart pragmatist, Episcopalian, attorney, conservationist.” Born in Essen, Germany, Lindi and her family moved to the U.S. in 1989 — a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. After Donald Trump’s reprehensible comments on immigration last week, Lindi immediately wanted to write about her reaction. She shared it with me, and I would like to share it with you. — Michael Brune

It probably goes unnoticed by most, but one Thursday a month, a citizenship ceremony takes place a block from the Sierra Club’s Oakland office. Watching families hustle to the Paramount Theatre where the ceremony happens, corralling children dressed in what my mom would call “Sunday best” through throngs of phone-absorbed commuters, makes me smile. I’m instantly reminded of the day when I dressed up and hustled to one of the most important moments of my life — becoming an American.

Members of my family are from what the president of my chosen home calls “shithole countries.” We immigrated because we wanted to take advantage of America’s opportunities, and because we grew up seeing America as a beacon for a better life. To me, it was the country that had eradicated the Nazis, helped rebuild Germany, and intervened to support the independence of my mother’s home country. All of us have no regrets about uprooting our lives to give the American experiment a try. I worked hard to lose my accent, and adopt the best parts of this culture.

Donald Trump is racist. I knew that when he started the birther movement in 2013, I feared it throughout the election, and I felt it very personally yesterday. I had a packed day yesterday, and when my (non-immigrant, white, liberal) friends texted me “can you believe this?!” I smirked, hit “do not disturb” on my phone, and went about my busy day. “They don’t get it; how can they?” I thought.

It was not until I lay tossing and turning in bed, that Trump’s words really sunk in. Then I read the messages from those friends, and they definitely “got it.” They could easily apply his hateful words and empathize with a time they’ve felt personally attacked by the leader of the country they love.

The president of the United States is an overt, unapologetic racist. And if you’re a first-generation immigrant like me — no matter what country you came from — his words probably sting in a special, specific way.

But this is probably not the worst insult you’ve heard from an American. I wish that it will be the last.

Donald Trump is a racist, but if I’ve learned one thing about Americans, it’s that he represents a minority of them. I continue to be inspired by, and optimistic about, the best parts of America’s culture, and by the compassion, kindness, and strength of the majority of its people.

The Sierra Club has grappled with its own legacy on immigrant rights. I am proud to work here now, at a time when the Sierra Club stands with our partners in the immigrant rights movement, and has led the fight against the border wall for a decade.

If you are reeling from this latest outburst of the ugliest side of America, please send me a note. In honor of our shared experience as new Americans, I’d love to hear your thoughts. As an organization, we are powerful together by empathizing with and sharing just such experiences.

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