For those closest to me, the say I’m emotional. My sensitivity is a weakness, but also my strength. I wouldn’t argue that I’m an introverted person. And when I speak up, it’s with great passion. And I’m fairly pragmatic by nature. My wife says I’m a great listener. Not someone who hears people waiting for an opportunity to interject but actually listens to what they’re saying. I take a certain pride in that, given the city I live in.
I’m also a social sponge. I consume large amounts of content you generate. I’m a passive participant on social media. I occasionally share thoughts or photos but am by no means a content machine. Do I get on the occasional rant now then? Sure, it’s easy to do that in a medium that has little sense of consequences.
But, this has little to do with me. And I only want to share a little about myself before expressing an opinion I have. It’s seems only fair.
For me, making America great again isn’t good enough. We should be making America better than it has ever been. I mean, wasn’t that the whole plan our forefathers set us up for?
And only recently did I discover what this means to me. Surprisingly, even for me, it has nothing to do with the values or opinions I have. It has to do with someone I consider a close friend. Whom I would have never met had America not been the great nation that it is.
We’ll call him V.
V grew up in Russia. In Stavropol. A small city in south western Russia. V studied hard and followed his personal interests in computers. He did the stereotypical things you may expect from a Russian youngster interested in computing – I’ll let you use your imagination.
V applied, and earned, a visa for travel to the USA. No small feat. He barely spoke English. Not even enough to work at a McDonald’s – which was his first job on the East Coast. There was one other Russian at this franchise who acted as a translator between all the staff and V. He routinely got credited with any mistake or wrongdoing as he couldn’t verbally defend himself.
V eventually worked his way out of the McDonald’s, armed with a bit more English, to the largest city in North America – New York City. There he struggled to find work suitable matching his experience (and potential) and often found himself in stereotypical roles. He aspired for something more and continued to pursue the American dream.
One day, around the time Obama was campaigning for his first term as POTUS, V and I met through a professional encounter. I truly struggled to understand his English, but sensed (using that sensitivity that I mentioned) a good person. Someone who had more to say than his English allowed him to do so. Someone who impressed me without being able to speak to me as well as they wanted to. Again, no small feat on his part.
Following this conversation, V and I become co-workers. And the first year I worked with him I learned he could not return to Russia to be with his family. I learned his visa for visitation was authorized not only by the US but also by Russia (I’m a naïve American and never really thought about this). And if he returned he wouldn’t be able to come back to the US. Furthermore, his family was blacklisted from traveling outside of Russia so they could not visit him either. It had been years since he and his family had seen each other.
As December grew closer the first year we worked together, it bothered me that V would be in New York City for Christmas by himself. My family graciously extended an invitation to V and he joined us for the holidays. From this moment forward our working relationship moved into a friendly one. And has stayed strong for the last several years. He still asks about our rescue dogs. He still shares memories of that Christmas in New England. And I still share stories of him going down a hill on a snowboard for the first time. Stories, that which if America wasn’t so welcoming, neither of us would have.
And we’re still creating stories.
V told me and others, on numerous occasions, that if it weren’t for me his life wouldn’t be what it is. And thanks me time and time again for the opportunities I’ve provided. While extremely humbled and honored, it has nothing to do with me. It has to do with America. This great nation and the opportunities it holds. For those who want to be a part of it and those who already are.
After several years of paperwork and thousands of dollars, V became a citizen of the US. An exciting and emotional day. It meant he could see his family in Russia again. And he could return to the US freely.
As we grow closer to an election which has each of us strongly voicing our opinions in what often feels like an echo chamber, I ask you to take a minute or two to think of those who are not yet our citizens. Those who’ve not yet landed on our shores. Those who yearn for more.
And what they can mean to us and our country.