Being the “Right” Type of Citizen


Kate Kovachevich, Staff Writer

The headline read, “Bosnian Immigrants Accused in $850K Trucking Firm Fraud.” I had awoken at 5:15 a.m. and checked my phone, sleepy eyes growing wide as I scanned the article I saw on my Facebook timeline, and wider still when I saw the comments. My parents had already told me that someone they knew and his daughter had gotten arrested for fraud two weeks ago, and I hadn’t put another thought into it. But after reading the story, it’s all I can think about.

“Send them back to Bosnia!”

“These people should have gotten down on their knees and thanked God for the privilege of being in America, but no, they bite the hands that feed them. Send them back.”

“They need to go to prison first and then be deported.”

“The big headline says Bosnian immigrants, so send them back to Bosnia. I don’t care if they became citizens or not, they immigrated to this country. So bye bye back to where you came from.”

“Does this really surprise anyone?

“Tell me — are they Muslims?

And on, and on, and on the comments went. I was dumbfounded. First, I racked my brain trying to think of what drove the two to commit fraud; I grew up driving with my dad on sunny Sunday mornings, picking out fresh warm bread from the local Bosnian bakery while my dad stood and talked to the owner and other customers. I’d pick at the fresh bread while basking in the sounds of other languages that came out of smiling mouths, laughter interrupting the stream of conversation. But too often poverty and desperation is sly- it creeps unnoticed until the bills pile up and an eviction notice is posted on the door. I realized I was not surprised that the two had resorted to crime. Being an immigrant is like having all the odds pitted against you while you are expected to excel. I was disappointed in them.

Next, my mind kept flipping back to the headline. The two criminals were American citizens, they had immigrated legally in the 1990’s, like many others following the collapse of Yugoslavia and the subsequent genocide. “Bosnian immigrants” were the first two words of the headline, the only words many chose to see, and perpetrated unjustified cultural assumptions to an audience who was ready to pounce.

I was in awe at the ignorance and hate that plagued the minds of so many. Never mind being a U.S citizen, if you had immigrated here and had broken a law, you did not deserve to be treated as a citizen. When were there stipulations placed at being a “right” kind of American in order to be treated as a citizen? 

I pictured my parents: my poor dad, always working, always thankful to be in America. My mom, always instilling core values into me and my sisters. Be appreciative, work hard, and don’t draw too much attention to yourselves. I brushed her last warning off, I didn’t believe that we would be treated any differently because we were the first generation of my family in America. I didn’t believe that she or my dad would be treated differently because they were immigrants. If for any reason at all, because we lived in West MI., where people expressed tolerance and only cared whether you were a kind person and hard worker.

After the article on the fraud committed by people we somewhat knew, I was able to see the draconian thoughts in a society that seemingly esteemed America so highly. The America I know and respect is one that was built upon the four pillars of democracy: justice, freedom, representation, and equality. It is one that encourages people to seek a safe haven. It is the beacon of hope in a world filled with corrupt governments and cruel people. 

When did this change? Now I know a few spiteful comments are not indicative of the mindset of an entire society, there were a few voices of reason intermingled. But the fact that these comments were said in the first place is an indicator that hate will continue to divide this country if we let it. “News” that emphasizes an aspect to a story that is irrelevant in order to generate a (negative) reaction will continue to divide this country if we let it. 

Stereotypes and generalities plague the opinions of many people today. Stereotypes pigeon-hole people into predestined and accepted ideals. Stereotypes and generalities are restricting. What we need is a greater emphasis on diversity, open-mindedness, and tolerance as these are catalysts to social and global progression.