James Kerian: Have Courage And Be Kind Towards Immigrants


My family was eating at the food court at the West Acres Mall in Fargo a few months ago when my daughter pointed towards a table behind me and said “I like her dress, it’s so pretty.”

I turned around and saw that my daughter was pointing towards a little girl wearing a hijab (very similar to the picture above) who was being served lunch by her mother.  I could see that all of us looking at them while my daughter pointed towards them had made the mother understandably uncomfortable so I told my daughter that it was impolite to point and that she needed to simply walk over and tell the little girl that she liked her outfit.

My daughter was shy, nervous and a little embarrassed so we went over to the other table together.

It was a short conversation.  The little girl nodded, her mother said “thank you”, and we went back to our table and finished eating.  I was struck, however, by the mother’s terror as we approached and her tentative relief at my daughter’s kind words.  It was obvious that this kindness was not typical of the interactions she was accustomed to having with Americans.  That needs to change because kindness is the only appropriate reaction for us to have to immigrants who are living among us.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It was obvious that this kindness was not typical of the interactions she was accustomed to having with Americans.  That needs to change …[/mks_pullquote]

There is a legitimate security concern about the decision to all at once bring so many people from countries where America (and Americans) are not particularly well loved.  But responsibility for that decision clearly lies with us and our fellow citizens, not with the immigrants who have come here legally or the refugees who our government has brought here.

Pew research (to say nothing of recent anecdotes) may tell us that that the mother at the West Acres mall was statistically more likely to wish me ill than the average shopper there that day, but no sane individual believes that all Muslim immigrants are supporters of jihadist violence.  Statistics are a necessary tool in crafting public policy but they’re no excuse for an individual to show unkindness towards a stranger.

If virtue alone is not sufficient reason to be kind to immigrants then perhaps patriotism or self-interest will suffice.  There are now at least 1.8 million Arab Americans in this country.  Those who believe our recent immigration/refugee policies have placed our safety at risk may be tempted to think that there will be some mass exodus of those who have recently arrived but that is a fantasy that is both unfair and foolish.  Snarling at immigrants at the mall is not going to make anyone any safer, it is simply going to foster hatred and distrust.

Those who are concerned about the security of this country or the immediate safety of their loved ones should, therefore, be preeminently concerned with the integration of the already arrived immigrants/refugees into American culture.

An isolated community of immigrants who feel threatened by and alienated from the rest of the country is obviously going to be far more susceptible to murderous anti-American ideology than an integrated community of immigrants who feel that the country they have come to has welcomed them and cares about their well being.

Whatever policy changes may be necessary to better protect this country most of us will probably have more of an impact through the way we interact on a personal level.  I encourage you to heed the advice of the best movie that has been released this year:  “Have courage and be kind.”