Proving ourselves through civic engagement is important for immigrants

  • Jeromel Lara

    Jeromel Lara

 
By Jeromel Lara
Guest columnist
Posted8/26/2019 1:00 AM

For immigrants who come to the United States, like my mother and me, we have a big expectation to be less of a burden to this country that we call our new home. We are aware of the xenophobia and racism that people and public officials have against us, and as a result, our lives here are always about proving ourselves.

Documented or undocumented, newly arrived immigrants like my mother would take up jobs that most middle- and upper-class Americans would avoid. And, when it comes to politics, we are in awe at this country's democratic process, unseen in our countries of origin. But, in trying to avoid trouble and be looked upon as a burden, many of us often are shy ourselves about taking an active part in American politics.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We have just seen members of Congress who are or are from families of immigrants labeled as "un-American" and told to "go back" to their countries after sharing their opinions about how this country can improve itself. And, with the mass shooting that happened in El Paso that was driven by a white man's hatred of immigrants, we are afraid of being further ostracized and harmed.

As someone who has been civically active in school and involved with the Wheaton League of Women Voters, I have wondered in these past few weeks why I, someone who was born and lived most of my life in another country, even became involved in American politics. Am I just being burdensome to this country's people by pursuing a field in the government of their country that I am not even from? It has taken some reflection for me to answer these questions.

I came to this country with my mother in 2011. We were from the Philippines. We lived in San Diego, California, for a year before moving to the Chicago metropolitan area in 2012. Having been in two different parts of the world, I have lived in a country where democracy is weak and disregarded but also in a nation where it is strong and emphasized. These experiences have molded my interests in government and history.

I became active in civic causes in high school, and worked as a reporter to hold school and government officials accountable.

As I continue to grow, I hope to empower those around me in the communities where I have lived and will be living by promoting civic engagement and government accountability.

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In a democracy, people often must take bold stands, but that can feel like an unacceptable risk for many immigrants. This idea was emphasized at a League of Women Voters program in July, where an official who has served on six censuses acknowledged that the addition of a citizenship question could have resulted in an inaccurate count and said simply the efforts to put the question into the census scared many immigrants away, even though the efforts failed.

In fact, when immigrants, like those members of Congress, give opinions that may be critical of a particular action this country has taken, it does not mean we "hate America." In fact, when we give our constructive criticism of our nation's government, we show our love for this country. A true love for America is a love of its democratic foundations where people have the freedom to offer their opinions and constructive criticisms "in Order to form a more perfect Union."

Yes, recently-arrived immigrants are not from here. Despite this fact, we immigrants should still take the trouble to express ourselves and to be civically active in this country. We have seen and even lived in countries of origin that suffer from corrupt governments, dictatorships and faltering democratic systems.

We have looked at the United States as a beacon of hope where democracy can be successful and fought for. While we seek this light when we immigrants come here, we want to keep that light burning. One does not have to be an official citizen, American-born, and eligible voter to understand, to seek and to stand up for America's democratic foundations.

As I will continue to advocate for civic awareness and engagement of all immigrants to this country, I hope that our knowledge and participation in the system will not be looked upon as a burden on America but as a burden of responsibility we take on ourselves for this country.

Jeromel Lara, of Blooming­dale, is a Glenbard North High School graduate majoring in government and history at Harvard University,

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