A Warm Minnesota Welcome

A solidarity march for immigrants and refugees in Minneapolis Minnesota. February 18, 2017.
A solidarity march for immigrants and refugees in Minneapolis Minnesota. February 18, 2017.

When the offer letter arrived, they had to look Minnesota up on a map. The golden ticket for my immigrant parents arrived emblazoned with scarlet red on the return label. 3M. As Michigan State alums and Magic Johnson fans, they had heard of Kevin McHale but they hadn’t heard of 3M and never imagined living in a place so cold. The fate of my immigrant family was tied intimately to a mining company that originated in the Iron Range.

I grew up in Woodbury on a street with a number of immigrant families. The parents all devoted themselves to making tape and post-it notes. Over food, we mourned India’s cricket losses and discussed Indira Gandhi. But we were at the same time Minnesotans who learned to eat a casserole (with a few more chilies), celebrated Gorbachev’s visit and cheered as the Twins won the World Series and the Royals won State.

We were lucky. While some folks arrive to communities that are less than kind, we moved to a community whose warmth belied the temperature outside. It was a community where I could sing a bhajan at the Festival of Nations and still play shortstop on the same weekend. It was a community that valued education, and most of all, valued people simply because they were. The people of this state blessed us and resultantly my generation has led blessed lives. Amit grew up to start a medical device company here in the Twin Cities; Leena is a Psychologist treating children with autism; there are teachers, doctors and a few children grew up to work for 3M itself.

Minnesota has never failed to welcome those in need and it has never failed to recognize the contributions of all who are here.

For my family, Minnesota was a fortunate find. For many it has been salvation. In 1979 it was a young girl in the refugee camps of Thailand who waited for a place where she could be safe again. In 1991 it was young boy who had fled his home in Somalia. Each time, Minnesota actualized a dream. Today Syrian children carve out childhood memories in camps on the outskirts of horror while they await a place where they too can feel safe again.

Minnesota has never failed to welcome those in need and it has never failed to recognize the contributions of all who are here. The spirit, the generosity, and the overwhelming love shown by volunteer organizations such as Lutheran Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota, amongst others, have saved lives. The bravery of these organizations, to invite the forgotten, also made Minnesota a better place. From refugee camps emerged the insightful poet, your loving nurse, and the chef at your favorite restaurant.

The legalities of The Trump administration’s executive orders on immigration and refuges are being decided, yet regardless of court findings, they do not reflect Minnesota values. In the 1980s and 1990s, across Republican administrations, the federal government provided financial support for the resettlement of those seeking hope out of despair, while also ensuring an extremely rigorous vetting system. America this year, however, closed its doors on “the huddled masses,” survivors who seek shelter from the wrath of radical Islam and global apathy. In doing so, the administration celebrates an indifference and hostility which drives away the next talented entrepreneur, healer, or artist who wishes to call themselves a Raptor, Royal or Gopher.

I recently moved back to Minnesota from Texas. It wasn’t the weather or even the microbrew scene that drew us home. As we welcomed a daughter to this world, we wanted a community that valued schools and most of all a community that valued all people.

In the face of federal policy that seeks to attack one of Minnesota’s most attractive qualities—its welcoming openness—it is time once again to assert our core values just as churches, volunteer organizations, and individual Minnesotans have done for years.

As the child of immigrants whose family was received by this state and this city, I accept the responsibility to practice the values this state taught me. To Minnesotans who hail from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen: without you, our clinics are less healthy, our schools less brilliant, our businesses less wealthy and our lives less joyful. And to the 20 Syrian refugees who came to Minnesota in 2016, a warm welcome home.