As someone who is particularly more political than most, it is endearing to see how the ETSU Civility Week touches on subjects of importance. Last week, ETSU held a town hall debate on immigration.
At first you may think this town hall is just going to be a violent exposé of political opinions being yelled across the room (similar to how my family functions operate), but this isn’t the case. ETSU wants to provide students with their freedom of speech and expression in a safe, facilitated zone where students can share their opinions with other students. It’s more so a learning opportunity than a verbal fight-to-the-death.
In today’s political climate, identity politics have escalated to its climax. Many students feel unsafe expressing their political opinions, and that comes from students on all parts of the political spectrum. Many feel they can’t express themselves without being verbally accosted for their politics. In an ETSU sponsored setting, though, these ideas can be shared, questioned, debated, answered and hopefully all ideas can be understood by the end of the session.
ETSU town halls typically discuss topics of student relevancy. For many students, immigration is a personal topic that reflects their identities, heritage and background. There are many students on campus who are first-generation Americans or first-generation native-born Americans; some are international students seeking a degree and career in America; and others have family members or friends who are immigrants in this country simply seeking a better opportunity. For many people of color or students with mixed ethnicity, immigration is a source of strength and pride.
For me, my grandmother’s bravery brought her to this country to seek a better opportunity away from the war. She married an American Vietnam soldier and gave birth to my mother and uncle. Out of another act of bravery, she divorced my abusive grandfather and made a life separate from him. I’m proud to say she’s a self-made woman. She gained her citizenship years ago and now classifies herself as “just an old, regular hillbilly.” She owns a small stand at the flea market, where she sells leather goods, belts and glass pipes to bikers, country men and smokers in that order. She owns a real-estate business from the comfort of her home and neighborhood. She also sends money back to her mother, who is 90 years old, and tends to visit Vietnam every few years. She also helps many of my immigrant cousins gain passage to America, where she hosts them as a halfway house before they save up enough money to move on and gain citizenship themselves.
Immigration is, by all means, a form of courage. Like any nation, citizens may respectfully debate the issue of illegal immigration. Forget all the negativity and fear surrounding immigration. Everyone has a story, and town halls are a chance for all sides to sit together and listen to one another. Town halls provide a chance for people who haven’t heard the other side to gain a first-hand perspective of what immigration means to them.