Saturday, September 16, 2017

REPOST - Understanding History and what it means to be British!

I originally posted this a few years ago, but as an immigrant, I wanted to share, again, what I feel being a privileged white male European living in the USA.

From (slightly edited):

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Before the holidays took off I began a quest to find more Holiday stories from cultures other than my own.  I mulled over stories from faiths other than Christian.  I was raised with Grandparents who were mostly Christian Scientists, but in late Elementary School years attended Church of England for a while.  In my teens I explored other religions and faiths and I have kept reading about different cultures and their beliefs since then.  I have also been lucky enough to have known people whose faith has been tested beyond 'normal' circumstances and have retained their faith, or had it made all the stronger.  Religion can be a bit of a sticky wicket.  Some people proclaim their faith is the only right one and all others are corrupt, or heathen beliefs.  I once shared a flat in London with a born-again Baptist. He was told me the Catholics had it wrong and would burn in hell for what they thought was right. That was his belief.  The truth is that until we die, none of us will really know - have the solid  fact before us (a fire pit beneath our feet, wings on our backs, or fighting in Valhalla with other great warriors) - if there is indeed anything after death other than nothing!  Reading old myths, legends and folk stories I have seen many religious (and other) bigotries appear, sometimes because of who was transposing, or translating the story, or because of the 'norms' of the day - what was acceptable then and not now.

Being British has some drawbacks.  Hard to imagine, but it is true!  The biggest for me is that as a Nation, Britain colonized the world.  The sun never set on Britain at one time in history.  It was a while back and I should move on, but that history comes with a lot of baggage and for me a heightened awareness of what Britannia did - England even.  England ripped apart Scotland. England caused major problems in Ireland which began over 350 years ago and are not 'fixed'.  Britain did serious damage on the African continent, and in India, and what we did to the indigenous people of America was appalling. I know other countries did similar things, but.  With all of this came exploitation, and... and the suppression of indigenous beliefs.

So when I come to tell tales from other cultures I carry that sack on my back. Especially around the Winter Holidays.  We could begin the winter Holidays with the Eid Al Adha on the 14th and 15th of October and run until the Chinese New Year which [was in 2013] the Year of the Snake and is celebrated on the 10th and 11th of February. Somewhere I wanted to find some great stories I could be faithful to and tell from deep inside. And not be too down - I was going to be performing for kids as well as grown ups.  I looked at some Jewish tales, mainly the story of Hanukkah and the folklore of the driedel.  But I did not feel right telling this story as a non-Jew. Then I remembered a wonderful story written by Eric Kimmel called  Zigazak!: A Magical Hanukkah Night. Because this is an original story I could not, with good conscience, tell it without Eric's permission. So I emailed him via his website and he said: YES.  A friend of mine Tim Van Egmond told me (and others) about a Japanese story. And I had my own stories to draw from.  So over the Holiday period, I was able to tell a story about a couple of Hanukkah goblins (thanks so much Eric), the story of King Wenceslaus from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), a Japanese story about New Year and why the seas are filled with salt (thanks Tim), the Winter Cherries (a great Welsh tale set in the Arthurian 'romances' pantheon), and a true story about the truce the soldiers created on the Western Front of World War I, 1914.  (Over the holidays I found another true story about a German pilot who escorted a British bomber to safety!)  It was a nice mix of tales and religions and all of them contained the best part of humankind - our humanity!  Every story I read and told contained our humanity, our ability to make the right things happen, to help others. And every story has it's own little miracle in it.

Oh we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along singin' our song side by side

Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road sharin' our load side by side

Back to now - 16th September, 2017

When I first came to the States I had to stand in a line with other men on either side of me with my drawers down, along with the rest as a doctor took hold of certain parts and asked each and every one of us to cough. On arriving in U.S. with all the right permits I was questioned about why I was here and what I planned on doing. My answer to marry my American fiancee. Once in America it wasn't over. We had to be married within three months. It wasn't over. We were interviewed together six months later. And a year later. I was given a 'green card' (which was pink and when I asked if boys didn't get blue ones, I realized I should keep my mouth shut) which was to be renewed in five years. Even with nothing to hide, and with all the right papers filled out in advance, it was intimidating.

In Portland, Oregon where my wife and I moved to live, getting in line at the immigration building to be interviewed to stay in the country and renew the visa I was very much in the minority being white. I saw all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Some of these people were rude and obnoxious to the officers, even when it was the person at fault, so it is not surprising the immigration people were not always happy. It was not surprising that some of the immigrants were pissed off. It was not easy to find the right information, and even when you arrived at 5.30 AM to get close to the front of the line when the doors opened at 8 am (or was it nine?) to find you still needed other info, it was frustrating. Sometimes these folks were very polite despite all this and the officers were rude, for sme unknown reason. Should you talk out, and stand up and defend these folks? What if when it was your turn they refused you admission? Once you left the line, you wouldn't get back in until the next day. The officers I dealt with were sometimes great, and sometimes not so much. As an English speaking, white male I think I was sometimes treated better than others, and saw and heard some pretty poor human relations. No one wants to be in those lines, in those rooms, waiting to see if you could remain here. I chose to come over to America. For those who did not choose, but were brought, I cannot even imagine what the experience would be like for them - young people who have really only known America as their home, brought here by their parents.

I have been here in America for over 20 years and still carry a 'green card' which is now green again! I cannot imagine what it must be like for people trying to move to America now, after the Twin Towers came down, after the hatred that seems to be rife here now. Or for those who are trying to stay. It took me two months to find a job. My skills included 5 years of management experience, and hospitality, I had been a professional photographer - self employed, and ended up at first as a barista in a coffee shop - it was Portland, Oregon! I speak the same language, sort of. There are people coming over here with better skill sets than I had or have, more qualifications who are working the same sort of jobs - coffee shops, cleaners, menial work, if you will as I had when I first arrived. For someone of colour coming here, someone of an obvious different faith than Christian, I can see these folks having a much harder time finding work and settling.

With the garbage I carry of Britain's past colonization, I have the utmost empathy for newer immigrants coming to these shores who welcome "your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I hope America can stand by these welcoming words, and remember that everyone who is not a Native American is an immigrant or descended from immigrants, who might have arrived homeless, wretched, tired and poor. Have empathy. When the Italians came over they were treated like dirt. When the Irish came over, the same thing. The Polish people, the folks from the Ukraine, each 'last' wave of immigrants begin at the bottom, with a sort of cultural hazing, intentional or otherwise.  I hope we can offer all people entering the United States of America the little miracles I find in the stories I tell. The stories I tell from all over this wonderful and crazy work we live in.

1 comment:

Marek Bennett said...

Good to read your immigration experiences. We've had too much ideology & not enough human experience in this ongoing political debate. I suppose that's a job for... Storytellers! ~ M