There are only 28 days until Donald Trump becomes President of the United States of America. We have less than a month left to live in a Democracy that has a semblance of a social safety net, that has outlawed hate crimes, that guarantees us freedom of the press, speech, assembly, and religion. I feel that I must do something each day that counts toward saving the good that American has been and will be - until January 20th. The time to cry was after the election results came in. The time to panic is probably just beginning. I’m sure I’ll be doing plenty of that in the future. For now, I’m trying to be constructive.
Yesterday, December 21, I volunteered as I’ve been doing each Wednesday, at the ESL Café at the Skokie Library. Since this is a drop-in program for any immigrant who wants an opportunity to practice speaking English, we never have the exact same group that we had the week before. While a core group attends each week, people are always dropping in or out. We go around the room asking the people to introduce themselves. Today, people came to the group from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Syria, Iraq, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The way in which people introduce themselves is always interesting. “I came from Syria five years ago,” says a woman. The tears she is trying not to shed are visible. “It used to be beautiful. Not now.” She cannot continue talking and we move on to the next person.
Many of the people who attend the group talk about how grateful they are to be in America and Skokie, Illinois in particular. “I’ve been here over 20 years,” says a Russian woman. “God bless this country.”
We welcome them all to the group. I tell them my name and that I was born in New York and have spent most of my adult life in the Chicago area. “My grandparents came from Russia over 100 years ago,” I tell them. “We’re all immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Welcome to the group. Welcome.”
I wonder how long I’ll be able to say that. Will any immigrants be truly welcome here during the next four years? I swallow a lump in my throat and my co-volunteer goes on to our activity for this day – sharing holiday music from our respective countries. Everyone seems to enjoy sharing it. We sing. We dance. We eat cookies from various countries that participants have brought in. We’re from many lands but we’ve shared our music, our dance, and our foods. We can no longer be strangers.
I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer in this program, a joint project of the English Language Learners Center and the Skokie Library. How long will I be able to welcome new immigrants to America? I don’t know, but I’m determined to work with Immigrant Rights Groups to make sure that America remains a beacon of hope to the world.
The countdown continues. I hope to do something today and every day to make the next month meaningful.