On July 14, 2019, my funny, generous, and loving Uncle Zed was killed while being robbed by a passenger in his taxi. Yes, he was an “immigrant from Bangladesh,” as local news outlets pointed out — but he was also 65-years-old, and the story of his life shouldn’t be summed up in a single decision he made over 30 years ago.
As a New Yorker, nothing encapsulates the beauty of migration better than Lady Liberty. The sepia-toned photos at Ellis Island narrate a romanticized concept of immigration, even though these travelers experienced profound struggle and loss. Overcoming those challenges is part of the immigrant experience. Although it’s difficult, it elicits a sense of pride to take part in a tradition that has defined the United States since its founding.
Today, however, it seems that “immigrant” has become a derogatory term, one reserved for people of color who migrate to so-called developed nations. After all, we don’t imagine the Swede who emigrates to France as an immigrant in the same way we do a Guatemalan who seeks asylum in the United States. The new definition of an immigrant is falsely perceived as lazy and dangerous, someone who’s out to steal jobs and resources from American citizens.
This negative connotation is the reason my family urged me to speak to members of the press who were lingering outside our home for two days after Uncle Zed’s death. They wanted me to paint a picture of a man who was more than an immigrant.
The label of immigrant weighs heavy on me because I don’t know which interpretation sticks — that of the unwelcome foreigner or the embodiment of the American Dream.
Zed had a son and a daughter, both thriving adults. Although Zed moved to the United States with his family nearly 30 years ago, it wasn’t to escape poverty, war, or persecution. They migrated to be near family — most of Zed’s siblings had already made the move. He also wanted to put down roots in the United States to satisfy a sense of adventure and curiosity. He wondered what he could accomplish here that he hadn’t already accomplished back home. Uncle Zed was an entrepreneur; what better way to…