By Rep. Darrio Melton
This week, families across the country will come together to give thanks around the dinner table. Thanksgiving has come to be opening day of the holiday season, marking the start of shopping and decorating. However, Thanksgiving should mean so much more than a quick dinner before the Black Friday sales.
Not only is it a time for all of us to take a step back and appreciate the blessings in our lives, it’s also a time to remember how we came to be a nation, a melting pot of cultures and nationalities looking for a home.
We typically associate the first Thanksgiving with the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe at Plymouth Plantation. The pilgrims were struggling to survive in the New World, so Squanto and Massasoit donated food and helped teach them to farm and hunt to survive the winter. I can imagine that some in the Wampanoag tribe weren’t excited about helping the pilgrims, but they came together and offered a helping hand.
Without their help, the pilgrims would have likely died and America may look very different than how we know it today.
Nearly 400 years later, Americans are divided over this same issue.
Just like Squanto and his tribe had to decide how to handle the new pilgrims, Americans today have to decide how to handle the millions of individuals still seeking out our shores for safety.
Last week, President Obama announced an executive order that will prevent deportation of undocumented immigrants and challenged Congress to take further action to fix our broken immigration system.
While Congress seems to forget that policy is more than words on paper–it’s families and communities and lives at stake–Americans themselves seem to be equally divided on the issue.
While many have opened their churches, their homes and their hearts to the next generation of Americans, others have been quick to advocate for locking the door and taking down the Statue of Liberty.
The nation of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is now saying “no mas.”
But many of those same individuals identify America as a Christian nation and call themselves Christians.
But the Bible tells us, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
It’s our story from all nationalities. Whether we are native-born or American by choice, sons of pilgrims or daughters of slaves: the story of America is one of inclusion and diversity, from sea to shining sea.
Because the Wampanoag tribe opened their arms and gave the pilgrims an American welcome, we now owe that same courtesy to the next generation of immigrants.
We show a greater love for humanity by extending our arms and not closing our hearts. That’s the spirit we should all embrace this Thanksgiving and throughout the year.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010. He currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.