Stereotypes regarding immigration vary greatly

If you ask each individual that lives in America about their opinion or perspective of immigration, the answers will vary greatly, ranging from support to intense anger. The word immigrant has become a hateful and bitter word for some, or a pawn for political debates and underlying racism. The United States is a beautiful country, home to so much rich cultural diversity and languages. People from all over the world leave their families behind and travel here to make a better life for themselves and for their families, no matter the risk it takes to get here.

My parents were a part of that, as they immigrated here in the 90s with my older brothers, who were just kindergarteners at the time, to make a better life for the little Szul family in America. Our family here has faced what many immigrants have when they first move, and that is the difficult start up. Neither of my parents knew one word of English when they arrived, and learning on the go was crucial to be able to stay and thrive here. We had once been very poor and struggling in our beginnings in America, and now both of my parents run their own successful businesses.

To my parents, “immigrants” has never been used as a dirty word or slur to use against them. As Polish immigrants, we are lucky that we have such a huge community of Polish-Americans in the city of Chicago, as it’s next in the rank of population to our own capital city back in Poland. The only stereotypes we have really faced are the jokes about alcoholism and pierogi, maybe even the occasional nasty Holocaust joke thrown in by someone ignorant.

I am a 16 year old Polish-American girl, and in my life of being born and raised here, I have carried a great privilege with me. I hold a rich, beautiful culture, but I am able to pass as every other white girl on the street here. If I do not tell people of my background, I am regarded as everyone else and merely blend in.

European immigration to America is nothing new to the people living here, as Europeans were the ones who had crossed seas into Native American homes and called it their own. I, a Pole, am regarded completely different as an immigrant than from someone who has come here from Mexico.

Why is it that I have such privilege in living a completely normal life when someone who can share my same family story is met with cries of “go back to your own country”? Why can I speak my own language freely and fluently and I’m not met with harsh words of “speak English, you live in America.”?

In the end, most immigrants come here for the same reason. To make a better life for themselves and for their families. Why should one country be allowed to do that and have another one shut out for wanting the same opportunities?

There are children being locked up in cages like animals. Children taking care of other children to survive while their families wait desperately in hopes that they will ever see them again. There are families being torn apart as ICE rips through towns and drag mothers and fathers away to a country that they may not even see as home anymore. I have never and probably will never hear of this same thing occurring to Polish immigrants.

In Poland, America is seen as the land of opportunities, a beautiful dream for every aspiring immigrant. I carry a great privilege in being able to live a normal life, and it is incomprehensible to me on why I should be treated any differently than the girl across the border who had just wanted the same job opportunities as me.

Instead of ‘building a wall’, we should be opening our arms to our neighbors, treating people with peace and the love that any dignified human deserves. We can not say that we are an equal country until it is acknowledged that the only reason us immigrants from Poland or Mexico are any different is from the racism that tears it apart. There are so many awful stereotypes when it comes to this. That these immigrants are “lazy” or just want to “steal all the jobs”. As a Pole myself, and as a daughter of two immigrant parents, I can promise you that the people that have risked their lives to be here will work harder than anyone else who has had the privilege to be born into upper class.

As immigrants, or as children of immigrants, it is up to us to share our stories. I’ve gone to Polish school every Saturday since I was four years old and I speak fluently to remember my heritage and hold it close to me. I am incredibly proud to be Polish, and I am incredibly proud to be the daughter of two of the most hard working people I have ever known, two immigrants in fact.

Your culture isn’t anything to be ashamed of, as it is a part of who you are. I used to want to merely adapt and blend in with the other kids. Polish school every Saturday at nine in the morning used to be something that I would only complain and whine about. After 13 years, that chapter of my life is coming to a close as I am graduating in the spring. Now I am extremely proud of my heritage and it is a big part of who I am.

If you have a voice, use it. As an immigrant, it is a duty to defend someone who shares the same story as you. As a human, it is a duty to defend the moral rights we all carry as we enter into this world. If you hear an American say “go back to your country”, then shut them down, as we all live on the stolen land of Native Americans.

Listen to someone’s family story around you, hold compassion for your neighbors; Chances are that you might just meet the most incredible friend, who has left their old life behind to build another one.