Love History Allyhood

Immigration Policy


Telana Kabisch

From a young age, I learned that there were huge inequalities in the world. I remember when my mom told me that I shouldn’t waste food because some children don’t have food to eat. I remember realizing how comfortable a life I lived after I went over to my friend’s apartment and saw that they didn’t have a bed to sleep on. These experiences stuck with me. I could never understand why I was more entitled to a safe environment, food, water, and shelter.

One of my first moments of cognitive dissonance was when my best friend growing up told me that their parents couldn’t get documents to become citizens. Every day they carried with them the fear that they would come home and find that their parents had been taken. I didn’t understand anything about gaining citizenship but I felt the pain in my friend’s heart. In high school, when I was preparing to apply to colleges, my friend had to explain to me that they didn’t have the same opportunity to go to college as I did. They had lived in Michigan their whole life but they couldn’t get in-state tuition or the government financial aid they would need to attend. I was fortunate to have a friend who was willing to share their experiences with me. This has been the most significant way I’ve learned about immigrant communities. 

There were a lot of messages and statistics about immigrants that did not match the experiences my friend told me. The media told me that “third world countries” were weak and undeveloped. The news reporters told me that immigrants were “criminals” and purposefully did not gain documents so they wouldn’t have to pay taxes. We are fed stereotypes and lies that continue to have very real consequences for groups of people. As I got older, I began to learn why these messages about immigrants and other groups of people were being disseminated. 

It was during my history courses in college that I realized I was born into a country that tells its youth lies about how the world came to be and what it is today. I grew up in a country that explains inequalities as a lack of hard work and determination. With the opportunity I had to go to college, I began to learn about US history in a much more complex and complete manner than what I was exposed to in middle school and high school. In middle school and high school, we learned: that the white man civilized the Natives and that Native peoples willingly gave their land to the settlers who were to properly develop the land. Colonists enslaved Africans but slavery was abandoned in the 18th century and after the Civil Rights movement everyone was really equal. The narratives of: “America the land of the free”, “America the home of all immigrants”, “the great American melting pot,” were whispered in my ear relentlessly.

When you study history from the non-dominate perspectives of African Americans and/or Native peoples rather than white male colonists, the story begins to look very different from what is represented in our textbooks. Native peoples of the United States were not weak and underdeveloped. They did not simply disappear or hand over their land to the colonists. Slavery in the US was unlike any other form of slavery throughout the world. It left an indelible mark on the institutions and socialized understandings of race within the US. Critically diving into this history is necessary to understand the world around us today. Rather than having students memorize the “significant” dates of the revolutionary war, what if we posed questions like: Where do the racist roots of the US surface above the soil? Why were borders created? When have immigrants been welcomed? Which types immigrants are welcomed? How does US intervention impact other countries? What is the legacy and continued effects of colonialism?

Unlearning these lies is a continuous and shocking process that doesn’t necessarily get easier as it goes. It’s very difficult to recognize your own privilege and history. For me, identifying my own privilege started when loved ones shared their struggles with me and I educated myself about the history of the US. Being an ally to immigrant communities is a complex journey of learning and pain.

In Keith Edwards piece, “Aspiring Social Justice Ally Identity Development,” he explains that many people find themselves being an ally when someone close to them is being hurt. This sort of ally sees themselves as a protector who intervenes on behalf of the person they care about. Folks who find themselves protecting people from “random” acts of racism don’t see the systematic nature of racism or other-isms. It seems as though racist events occur in a vacuum with no relation to the world we find ourselves in. Some people who might call themselves an ally, “help” people because it socially affirming and they get to fill the role of a hero or savior. The ally or accomplice I challenge myself and everyone to work to acknowledge the systems of oppression around us. Dismantling these systems liberates all of us and should not be dependent on social praise.


As someone who is fighting for social equity, my personal values create and inform the way I move through the world. I am inspired by the people I love, I am stirred by history, and I am driven to be the best accomplice I can be. When I was younger, I thought that I was entitled to a good life. This was another myth I had to unravel. Privileged communities are not entitled to a safe existence. We are told that people can choose their path in life but we live in a world where peoples’ most basic identities are used to limit and abuse them.