In 1993, shortly after I had decided to rebuild my life in California, six friends came to my apartment for refreshments. Carmen was from Guatemala, Daniel was from Switzerland, Sontaya was from Thailand, Hamid and Touraj were from Iran, Shlomi was from Israel. There was only one person that was from the United States- me.
Carmen and Daniel were Christian. Sontaya was Buddhist. Hamid and Touraj were Muslim. Shlomi was Jewish. I was the only one who did not profess a religion.
As we huddled together sipping wine and beer, we realized the different shades of our skin and contours of our faces. We planned a party the following Sunday, but this time with an intention: each person must bring a dish of food from their native country.
Touraj brought Persian rice.
Sontaya brought chicken with peanut sauce.
Carmen cooked black beans with fried platanos.
Shlomi brought fresh hummus.
I flipped hamburgers.
As we sat to eat while sharing stories on the patio, we realized we were strikingly the same. Although most of my friends spoke with strong accents, we understood and laughed at each other’s jokes.
That was twenty-four years ago, yet we still remember the joy of sharing our cultures from that humble dining experience. Carmen and I married shortly afterward. Daniel and Sontaya married later. I still occasionally see Shlomi and Touraj. I haven’t heard from Hamid, but Daniel said he is doing well.
Our family now celebrates the International Dinner every year in the summertime. It has become a tradition of thankfulness. It was not born from a single religious belief, but was based on the mutual respect that we are all born from the same planet we call Earth.
I almost cry as I type this, wondering what my life would be like if that gathering never took place in the summer of 1993. I also cry for the Muslim immigration and Syrian refugee ban our president has instituted. From the mere stroke of a pen, chaos, havoc, and fear has been unleashed throughout our world. It is difficult to imagine this impulsive decision was done for our security or safety, for a signal has already been sent that the United States no longer welcomes immigrants and has targeted a particular group of people from crossing our border. We are now less safe, and have offered a fuel to breed more terrorism.
What kind of country have we become?
Is this who we are?
What do we tell our kids?
I oppose walls, torture, fear, and exclusion. I oppose name-calling and finger pointing. If you want to change the world for the better, the highest wall will not transform anyone’s heart. Humans are remarkably alike. We all have the same hopes and dreams. We love to eat. We love to laugh. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife or my friends. If you still do not believe me, please join us at our next International Dinner. Not only will you relish the foods we prepare, but we will also laugh at each other’s humor.
We may even become lifetime friends.