And I saw the fear in her eyes

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

OCEANSIDE, California — A few days ago, I visited with a family that I very much like.  They happen to hail from Mexico and have two kind and winning young children who were born and are being raised in the United States.  The children speak fluent English; they look and sound like my own children when they were that age.  They love America, television, sports, In-N-Out Burgers, and creating their own playlists on their Smartphones.

The children are a joy to be with even as their parents are dignified, hard-working people.  Their smiles are wide and deeply realized.  I don’t know if these kids perceive the current mood in our country.  But there are shadows across the faces of both their parents.

I asked the mother how she and her husband were coping, given the present atmosphere.  She looked at me and I clearly saw cold fear in her eyes.  I added that my family and I are outraged by what is happening in America, the free-flying contempt, the threats of deportation, the travel bans arbitrarily proposed against Muslims, and the preponderance of hate crimes.

She said, in a low voice, in perfect English, “It’s hard.  We don’t know what to expect.”  The woman literally shivered with dread.  She looked at her children, who were playing innocently, and her eyes welled up.  My heart sunk and I pledged to be helpful to them in any and all ways possible.  I told her, “You know, I am an immigrant to this country as were my parents.”  She nodded and offered a faint smile.

You couldn’t find more upstanding people than this mom and dad.  In their personal standards, their deep religious faith, and their appreciation of this nation, they outscore very many bona fide American citizens that I have known across the years.  In the course of my own professional career as a rabbi and community leader, you’d be surprised to learn about the many born-in-America louts I’ve encountered.

As an immigrant with both a vast adoration and knowledge of American political and social history, I am deeply saddened by the recent retreat to federal brashness, civic bullying, war-mongering, headstone-desecrating, and fear-incitement that pervades.  A white man in Kansas shoots at a couple of Indian-Americans, technical engineers, killing one, while screaming “Get out of my country!”?

One can only conclude that someone or some empowered, if ignorant, group of people has tapped into the deep wells of hatred that exist in the body-psyche of this decidedly racialist nation.  The sinister result is that a considerable wave of inhumane, self-righteous jingoists now claim license to demoralize other persons and generally desecrate the American narrative.

I remember, as a nine-year old, standing next to my father as he raised his hand in a county court, swore allegiance, and became a citizen of the United States.  He spoke excitedly to the magistrate about the “brilliant Bill of Rights.”  I became a citizen that day, too.  That is why I am so discontent that a neighbor of mine, a nice young woman who also came here to live her dreams, has the look of fear in her eyes.

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Rabbi Kamin is an author and freelance writer based in Oceanside, California.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

 

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