I stopped at the concierge desk. It was nearly 8 p.m. and we had not yet had dinner. “Where’s a good place to get pizza?” I asked.
“Giordano’s,” he replied.
“Is it far?”
“No, easy. Three blocks up to Michigan and then three blocks up to Randolph.”
“Where are you from?” I asked, responding to his thick accent.
I ask everyone in Chicago where they are from because almost everyone has an accent. The Uber driver who picked me up from the airport was from Kakistan. He’s earned his Bachelor’s degree in Moscow and is currently working on his Masters degree at DePaul. The Lyft driver who took us from the library presentation to our hotel grew up in Mexico. “I was homeless as a child,” he said, explaining that he had a troubled mother. It is for those reasons, he has never smoked, never drank. His Muslim faith enables him to heal from all that childhood trauma.
But the concierge, he hesitated before answering the question of “Where are you from?”
“I am a Christian,” he said.
“You are a Christian?” I replied, confused by the response.
“Yes. I am a Christian.”
“Okay, but where are you from?” I persisted.
“You are from Iraq?”
“Did you tell me that you were a Christian because you are from Iraq?” I did not really expect him to answer that. “You told me you were a Christian first because of Trump didn’t you?”
He laughed nervously.
“Listen, you don’t have to do that. Not every American agrees with Trump. I hate the man.”
It’s hard saying those words but they are true, and I am not yet afraid to speak my truth like so many others I encounter everyday.
“My girlfriend? Her husband was a soldier in Iraq. He was killed in Iraq.”
Even though Linnie hadn’t joined me in the lobby, yet, the concierge knew which girlfriend I was referring to. He’d seen us come and go for several days.
“Her husband?” he asked.
“Yes, her husband. He was killed in Iraq.”
“I am so sorry,” he replied. “My brother, too.”
“Your brother was a soldier in Iraq?”
“I am so sorry about your brother.”
Linnie stepped off the elevator. I told her what I had learned about my new found friend.
He immigrated to the US after he serving as a translator for the Marines for eight years.
He had served our country.
This son of Iraq.
This man who had lost his brother to the same war that cost Linnie her husband.
This man works within shouting distance of the same stage where Linnie’s son plays the part of another immigrant – Alexander Hamilton.
The stage where time after time the audience learns Immigrants get things done.
Yet, this man, this immigrant, feared to speak his truth in Trump’s America.
In the land of the free, he was afraid.
We the people, we have made him afraid, through our silence, and through our own fears of immigrants.
Fears of men like Alexander Hamilton.
Imagine if this country was void of immigrants.
Imagine if there weren’t men and women in other countries willing to help our soldiers.
Imagine an America that no one wanted to immigrate to for fear of what might happen to them – because that’s the country we are rapidly becoming.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).