Until finding my way to Bethlehem, I spent most of my fondest moments in the house I have lived in since I was born.
I am the only member of my family of four to have never formally moved. Prior to living in my hometown in New Jersey, my parents and my brother lived in Connecticut for a short three years.
As for both of my parents, they both moved around quite a bit throughout their young lives.
They left their home country of Sri Lanka during their respective teenage years and have come so far, both metaphorically and literally.
My father left in order to further his education in the United States, and my mother left because of the tumultuous 26-year-long Sri Lankan Civil War.
In July 1983, my 13-year old mother was in the middle of her eighth grade school year and had to leave because of unsafe conditions where she lived.
She recalls that on July 23 at approximately 11:30 p.m., a group called the Tamil Tigers killed a total of 15 Sri Lankan army soldiers in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.
The burial of these fallen soldiers was delayed slightly, but after much consideration, the burials occurred at the Borella Kanatte Cemetery, which was very close to my maternal family’s home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Riots soon broke out and many people, including my mother and her family, had to leave their homes temporarily.
My mother and her family stayed with neighbors overnight. After hearing that houses owned by Tamil people were being robbed and burned down all over the city of Colombo, they packed some clothes and ventured to a family friend’s house.
I cannot imagine the array of emotions that my maternal family and other Tamil families must have been experiencing during this time.
Stores and businesses owned by Tamils were burned down. Chaos was not scarce and many felt unsafe in their own country.
When conditions seemed to be calmer, my grandfather and my uncles went to go check on their house. It was broken into, and all of their belongings were strewn all over.
My mother heard the ruckus but had never seen the aftermath.
To have somewhere that should be considered a safe space be violated like this is something unfathomable, at least from an objective eye.
But this sort of thing has happened so many times and is still happening, which should not and cannot be ignored.
With assistance from the Indian government, Tamil families such as my mother and her family were able to travel to their ancestral homes in the northern part of Sri Lanka.
Eventually, after the journey north, they were able to live in my grandmother’s parents’ house in the nearby village of Kayts, and my mother and her siblings were able to start school again quickly.
After a couple years of adjusting to her new life in Kayts, conditions got quite dangerous in the area.
As a result, my mother and her siblings weren’t able to go to school very much during this time.
In order to help Sri Lankan Tamils live in safer conditions and continue schooling in the midst of these worsening conditions, the Indian government had begun to grant tourist and/or student visas for those who wanted to leave the war-ridden country.
My grandparents made the decision to move to Chennai, India, so that my mother and her siblings could continue their schooling.
My mother finished her high school education in India and also went forward with her undergraduate studies there.
Eventually, my mother and her family decided to go visit her eldest brother who was living and working in England.
In 1991 however, the Tamil Tigers assassinated the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which made both the Indian government and people upset. As a result of this merciless act, they started to stop granting school admissions and university admissions to Sri Lankans living in India.
So after moving around more than a few times and not finding a significantly better quality of life, my mother, my grandparents and my two uncles and aunt sought and claimed asylum in the United Kingdom.
While my mother only lived in England until she finished her graduate program, married my father and subsequently moved to the U.S., my maternal family has remained ever since moving there for a better life in the early ’90s.
Reading and hearing about the immigration situation in our country since the current presidency began has been disheartening to say the absolute least.
I think of my parents and how much they have endured to become the people that they are today and to achieve the things they have achieved.
I think about how different my life would have been if my father hadn’t left his home country to further his studies in the States.
I think about how different my life would have been if my mother and her family hadn’t left Sri Lanka, moved to India and eventually settled in England.
I think about how proud and lucky I am to be the child of two brilliant immigrants who have worked tirelessly to give my brother and me a life that is, on the whole, quite good.
Many of the people that are being affected by these immigration policies are people who are after what the American Dream is meant to be.
They are hard working people.
They are families.
They are children.
They are siblings.
They are friends.
They are neighbors.
They are people who feel unsafe in their own country because of persecution and violence.
People who are claiming asylum in our country are not “animals,” as the president said during a C-SPAN conversation about Sanctuary Cities and Immigration Laws.
They are human beings who are deserving of the opportunities and resources that a life within the United States can offer.
They are human beings who have been separated from their families and have had to undergo rigorous screening, just to be able to prove that they are worthy of having a life in this country.
They are people who should be able to have the opportunity to have a life like the one that my family and other families who have immigrated here have been able to have.
Em Thampoe, ’21, is an associate lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]