The Complexities of the Immigrant Journey

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

HO7A6120An important theme of today’s meeting was the impact, experience and contributions of the immigrant on society and their journey from their birth home to making a new home in the United States.

From the Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award–named for Manfred Swarsensky, a German Jewish immigrant who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 — awarded to Dr. Suresh Chandra, an immigrant from India, for his work locally and internationally with Combat Blindness International to our speaker today, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, who is an immigrant from Iran by way of Spain.  Her family fled Iran during the Revolution for safety, and she came to the United States in 1991 to attend graduate school.  She is now a naturalized citizen and Chief Diversity Officer at UW Health.

She painted the immigrant experience as shaped by loss and complexity – loss of home, family, job, culture, language, community, the familiar, etc.  She also reinforced the positive outlook of the immigrant.  The quest for opportunity, choosing goodness over evil, the desire for one’s children to do better than the parent, the strengths of cultural integration into society (as opposed to the Euro-centric notion of melting pot assimilation), the principle of building bridges instead of walls, and developing extended family-like connections within the community.

Addressing questions posed about the immigration issues of our current time, Bidar-Sielaff felt that we are in a time of persecution of the immigrant.  She urged us to remember our Rotary Four Way Test and to advocate for common values, and good thoughts, words and deeds.  She encouraged us to be allies, and be present with the immigrant community when there are issues.  It is less easy for policymakers to dismiss concerns when there is broad-based support from all manner of skin color, culture and station.  And, of course, vote!

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

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