Don’t fear immigrants’ differences
To the editor:
I’m a NUHS Class of 2000 grad, and New Ulm will always have a piece of my heart. I loved growing up here, and made lifelong friends who are like family. This town provides a community feel that’s hard to find in a larger city, which I’ve realized since moving.
One thing I have really come to appreciate since moving, though, is that I have gained meaningful contact with people who are different than me. Growing up, almost everyone around me looked like me, ate the same food, celebrated the same holidays, spoke the same language. As I see it now, this was a limitation of our small quaint town, and there are lessons that I’ve been learning as an adult that I didn’t understand as a kid.
The demographics of New Ulm are not likely to change soon, and some might say that’s a good thing. But I believe there’s value in diversity, and for those that agree, there are things we can do. We can have the courage to oppose hateful statements. Financially support the organizations we believe in. Read books that introduce us to different ways of living. Contact congressional leaders and share our thoughts. Teachers can work hard to bring diverse views into classrooms, and look for resources that help do this effectively.
For the last eight years I’ve had what I consider a dream job: working with international students from hundreds of countries around the world. I’m proud of my work, and feel lucky that it’s introduced me to so many new things. If you haven’t seen evidence of the positive contributions that international students and immigrants can make, let me share a few: In the 2015-16 school year, international students contributed an estimated $54.5 million to Minnesota’s economy. In 2016, every American Nobel Prize winner in economics and scientific fields (6 of 6) was a foreign-born immigrant. 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children — which means many items we use daily, including life-saving medical treatments and maybe our favorite electronics, are available to us as a result.
We have to acknowledge that we are a country of immigrants, and in New Ulm we are especially proud of our German roots. It’s also important to remember that most immigrant groups throughout history are criticized and feared at first, and many of these fears end up being, in the end, largely wasted. I am one of many that can say from personal experience that there’s a lot to be gained from overcoming those fears.