An article describing South Carolina residents anxious about the rise of Syrian refugees in their community appeared last week in the New York Times. How many Syrian migrants has the State Department resettled in this area? To date, none.

I suppose this could read like a satirical Onion article if it wasn’t so disturbing. A local business man declared, “They don’t plan to assimilate, they don’t plan to take on our culture. They plan to change the way of American life.” Others expressed a fear that Syrian migrants were coming to take away “the very things we’re dear about” (New York Times).

I would have to ask what exactly are those values that this community holds dear? And what is this “American way of life” that they describe? Is it one of fear and hatred towards those that are perceived as different? Are those the values that Americans aspire to? I hope not.

Not only do I find the current climate of fear mongering about immigrants reprehensible, I also find it puzzling especially coming from people who claim to be patriotic. America is a great country when we are a welcoming nation that stands as a beacon of hope to those from across the globe who are persecuted. America is great when we can live side by side with our differences and co-exist in peace. Isn’t that the American, democratic narrative that we aspire to in the 21st century? Closing off our borders, fear-mongering about Muslims, perpetuating systematic racism — are these the values we hold dear?

Often I want to lead tours of my neighborhood, Edgewater, to people who live in more homogeneous towns. There are two mosques within blocks from my house. Rainbow flags dot front porches. The other night my family ate dinner around the corner at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurant. The restaurant has an adjoining space and as we were leaving we saw people gathering next door. Curious what was happening, we peeked in and saw a handwritten sign on the door that read “Ghana Election.” As we walked home, majestic people in African dress streamed past us on their way to vote. It’s great to see American values alive and well in my community.

Photo: Pivot Arts creates puppet parade with local Swift School Students.
Over 50 languages are spoken at Swift School.