By Andrea Patiño
Every now and then Jose talks to me about his grandmother. Sometimes he shows me photos of her or tells me about the times when she has made an appearance in his dreams. The other day for instance, he told me how the night before, his grandma had cut her long hair and gave it to him. He wasn’t really sure what the dream meant, he said.
Jose and his grandma never met in person, and yet they developed a really close and profound bond. He used to talk to her over the phone every so often and was only able to see her a couple of times on a computer screen. She lived in Guatemala, where Jose’s mother was born. At seventeen and pregnant, Jose’s mom crossed the border into the United States and was never able to go back to her home country, and thus was unable to see her mother ever again. Jose’s grandma died before anyone in the family could go back to Guatemala.
Stories of immigrants and refugees are everywhere in Lynn. With about 30% of its population being foreign-born, the city is incredibly diverse. It is reported that about 60 languages are spoken in the city’s public schools among students from all corners of the world. Some immigrant communities arrived decades ago, after the promising opportunities that a blooming place like Lynn had to offer. With the industrial decline and many factories closing, unemployment rose and the city became depressed, which continues to be true to this day. Nonetheless, immigrants continued to arrive.
Lynn has also become a hub for refugees. About 260 people from Bhutan, Burma, Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Somalia and Iraq among other countries came to the city in the second semester of 2012 fleeing from wars and political instability in their home countries. Another 600 are expected to arrive in the first semester of 2013.
I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of people whose lives, like Jose’s, have been impacted by immigration and mobility in one way or the other. There is Antonio, for instance, who now owns a thriving restaurant in Lynn and who, as an 11-year-old crossed the border into the US to be able to meet his mom for the first time, after she had left him as a baby in her search for better opportunities. Or Amal, who came to Massachusetts a few years ago after witnessing the murder of her husband and two of her kids in the violent war in Iraq. The stories are endless and each one is unique and important, not only for those who have had to move, but also for those whose communities have profoundly changed as more and more immigrants arrive.
In the midst of very important debates about immigration in the US, personal stories—of memories, separation and families—are fundamental to remind us that immigration is not only about numbers, economies and politics, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about our common humanity.