“Green Card Gardener” is my story, a work in progress about how I came to America on a Diversity Visa that I won in the Green Card Lottery, how I became a passionate gardener on a remote rural hilltop in Pennsylvania, and how with every gardening season I feel more at home in America. Yet, there is not a day I forget where I come from, a family of diverse identities, traditions and heritage.
By renaming this blog “Green Card Gardener” I speak as an immigrant to this country. As an immigrant and gardener, citizen and woman, mother, wife and cook, I stand with all who are also deeply troubled by the outcome of the presidential election and fearful of what’s in store for them and for America.
I am half-German, half-Arab. As a child and young adult in Germany, I struggled with my mixed genes and non-German looks and name. Only in America was I finally able to be myself because here I am surrounded by people who are just like me, who came from somewhere else to make a better life in the New World. When I moved to the United States, the promise of diversity, E pluribus unum, was just as important to me as the immigration visa itself.
My Tunisian grandmother was married off at the age of 13. She was also illiterate, which was not unusual for a woman in 1930s French colonial Tunisia. She was forced to live door-to-door with the second wife my grandfather took, which was also not unusual before Tunisia became the first Arab country to abolish polygamy in 1956. She wore the distinctive traditional Tunisian garb. My grandmother prayed five times a day. Her religion had nothing to do with ideology or fanaticism; it was the same Islam practiced by the almost 2 billion Muslims around the world.
My German grandmother became a war widow in the winter of 1942 at the age of 28 after my grandfather went missing in Stalingrad. She raised her three children alone.Often when I work in my garden or in my kitchen, I imagine my two grandmothers looking down on me and nodding in approval about how I live as a woman, and as a citizen of a free and democratic country. My life in America is better than any of the previous generations in my family could have dreamed.
Today, things are changed. These days I am deeply worried about America. My list is long. Civil rights. The treatment of minorities. The rights of women. Respect for women. America’s relations with other countries. Protecting the environment. Affordable healthcare for all. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Political ethics.
I have spent my entire adult life trying to wrap my head around why so many in my grandparents’ generation in Germany did not speak up after 1933, when Hitler came to power. They were silent. Drawing parallels between Germany back then and the United States today is tempting but I don’t think it’s fair to America. The Weimar Republic was a young democracy, only 14 years old, with a weak and flawed system at that, which could be easily undermined and destroyed. America is a veteran democracy, 17 times older than the Weimar Republic was when it collapsed. The United States is not perfect, but what has been achieved needs to be protected, not dismantled.
Eight years ago I became an American citizen. My civic duties as an American go beyond obeying the law, voting, paying taxes, being called for jury duty and volunteering as a Master Gardener. Speaking up and being watchful to help protect what I cherish and value about America are also my duties as an American citizen. I am heartened to see so many others are doing the same.
Lead photo by Ted Rosen