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It has been less than two weeks since Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America, and the shockwaves continue to resonate.
I am the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, a family member to LGBTQ relatives and a volunteer who helps refugees in my community.
With each new executive order or tweet, I fear for those who are dear to me, and for everyone else whose lives are uprooted by the president’s actions.
As a volunteer who helps refugees at a mosque, I’m heartbroken by the president’s decision to ban innocent refugees from entering the country.
I have looked into the eyes of people who have found safety in the United States, and who are profoundly grateful to a country that allows them to dress how they want, study how they want and live a life free of violence and persecution.
The toxic dialogue that has surrounded the national debate about issues of immigration, civil rights and border security is troubling to me. These arguments are pitting good people against one another, deepening the national divide, and contributing to problems rather than solutions.
Too many of us are spending too much time trying to win arguments and too little time trying to understand one another. No matter how angry we are, no matter how much pain we are in, we cannot succumb to writing each other off as wrong or invalid.
It’s a difficult task to resist those instincts, but not an impossible one. Across the country, organizations and communities have created a blueprint for it.
At the University of La Verne, where I am a student, we have a thriving community of interfaith leaders who build bridges across religious, spiritual, and philosophical divides. The community encourages people with fundamentally different views about the world to work together; to focus on the values that we share rather than arguing over the topics upon which we clash.
Interfaith has taught me that conversations will go nowhere if they are solely focused on who is right and who is wrong. It has also brought home for me the importance of empathizing with all people who are marginalized, rather than demonizing them, and of sharing their stories.
We must recognize the real and valid experiences that have led each of us to our individual perspectives. We must listen to each other, not to form a retort, but to understand. Let us speak not to cause others harm or disprove their perspective, but to raise awareness on the places from which our perspectives originate. And finally, let us learn from one another, not to use this knowledge as ammunition for the future, but instead as a source for future compassion and care when interacting with one another.
I understand the pain of families who have been harmed by the violent acts of a few undocumented immigrants.
But as the daughter of undocumented immigrants who fled to the United States from the growing danger of drug cartels, I am also hurt by President Trump’s executive order to build a wall. I believe we should invest in improving communities abroad and enhancing the broken immigration system instead of spending billions on a barrier that will divide but not safeguard us.
I share the desire to keep our communities safe from foreign terrorists.
I, too, want privacy and security in the places where I am most vulnerable.
But as part of the family of LGBTQ relatives, I was disheartened when the new White House administration deleted web pages dedicated to LGBT rights, and I have seen honest fear in people I love about something as simple as which restroom they may use.
In each of these cases, we cannot exclude people from society and label them as others. We must instead invite them as neighbors, understand their experiences and create partnerships of compassion and understanding.
In support of this call, I have marched in solidarity with fellow women and community members to declare that women’s rights are human rights and that we all stand together in defending the most marginalized among us.
I have helped with a campaign of “200 Letters of Love” to counteract hateful messages that were sent to mosques in southern California.
I have spoken along with 140 fellow community members about the need to have a local city declared a sanctuary.
And I am leading a campus project called “Speak, Listen, and Know,” which seeks to create opportunities for learning and civil discourse through the development of identity awareness weeks.
We must not fall into the historical narrative of misunderstanding, hate and fear that has led to the demise of the greatest nations. Now is the time to speak, listen and know one another.
Our country will stall if we choose only to focus on what divides us. We all share common ground. We just have to be willing to see it.
Mariela Martinez is a senior political science major and interfaith minor at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California.