Perhaps it is the daily choice of holiday classic stories that has caused me to ponder the plight of immigrants who come to our valley. Certainly, many others have recognized that the subplots and minor themes of the most poignant seasonal tales involve journeys, travels, relocations, and the encounters of natives to a region with aliens, both legal and illegal.
I had such an encounter recently when I was in Boston for a convention.
After the sessions one evening, I was waiting outside the lobby of a hotel for a local friend who was driving me to dinner. One of the hotel employees approached wearing the winter gear that identified him as one of the establishment's porters and sporting a warm smile despite the frosty air.
"May I help you, sir?" he asked in an accent suggesting that he was probably not a native of Boston or even of the nation. Briefly, I explained that I was waiting for a friend, but that I wanted to be outside to avoid adding another vehicle to the hotel's busy driveway.
"You be inside," he cautioned. "Tell me car name and color. I watch for you. It 'wicked cold.'" As I tried to defer, I noted that his apprenticeship with our language included the weather description I had first heard earlier from a New Englander.
"You are English teacher with convention? You must stay warm please," he advised returning to the bitter, chilling wind to assist others.
In the interim, my friend called to say that he was 15 minutes away, so I stayed inside the foyer.
When the smiling porter finished his task, he found me there and asked, "Mr. Teacher, you tell my English, good?" After I commented about his clarity and mastery of some important phrases, I reverted to my teacher mode and asked multiple questions in succession: "What is your origin? Are you new to our country?"
"Somalia," he proclaimed. "Yes, new. Come for safe and freedom." The smile never faded, but his countenance revealed a depth of mixed memories. "I learn from you. You teach more." So, I gave him some basic lessons about helping verbs and adjectival forms of nouns to which he responded with a thoughtful and lengthy, "Oh."
"How many languages do you know?" I inquired. He replied both digitally and vocally, "Three. English be four." I praised his acumen and confessed that most Americans only know one, and some of us are still struggling with it (myself included).
Then, I voiced the thoughts of my chilled brain, "Is it difficult to be an immigrant? I mean I hope you are feeling welcomed in our land." The other part of my mind chided me: though my 63 years as an American gave me some seniority in national terms, I had only been in Boston briefly, not even enough time to learn to say "Bahston" colloquially. Who was I to be questioning anyone here?
However, the engaging young porter was unperturbed, answering, "Some not-so-good times. But most wonderful it is America." His optimism brought to mind the pilgrim verse of "America the Beautiful."
When I saw my friend's vehicle, I reached for my wallet to give my newest "student" a gratuity. His hand touched the forearm of my topcoat. "Oh no," he declined. "You give me much better already. You teach me, and you listen. You give respect to me. They are gold."
Later, alone in my hotel room, I reflected on the brief episode. My intellect, returned to room temperature, realized that his respect for me might have been premature. It was easy to be welcoming here because I, too, was a stranger.
Would I be as welcoming to him if he moved into the house next door? Or would I be dismissive? I might not be as inhospitable as an innkeeper by rejecting a carpenter and pregnant girl, (who, later in that account from two millennia ago, would become illegal immigrants to Egypt), but would I be gracious?
That young couple and their child might never "show up" at my door, but the exchange with the porter convinced me that I have already met one of the Magi.
Williams is a Hubbard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org