In February, the village board of Oak Park unanimously passed one of the strongest sanctuary ordinances in the nation, limiting collaboration between local law enforcement and U.S. Immigration Custom and Enforcement (ICE). Make no mistake: this ordinance passed because of the intersectional work of multiple grassroots organizations coming together, mobilizing the citizens of Oak Park to call on the village board to do the right thing.
As an army veteran and child of immigrants, this is why I served. This is what democracy looks like. In the military, we’ve woven a multicultural, intersectional fabric, with service members of different backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientations, and it is this multicultural fabric that makes our military the greatest in the world. Our diversity makes our military stronger, as it calls to arms people from all walks of life, to serve, represent and protect our nation.
When I answered the call to serve, I did so knowing that, as a Hindu woman and the daughter of immigrants, I would be serving a country that didn’t always protect my rights. I’ve been called a terrorist, stopped and frisked at airports, and have felt out of place in many areas of this country.
I’ll never forget the day when, in my own neighborhood, a door was shut in my face by another community member.
“Oh, I shut the door because I just wanted to be careful of who I was letting in — you know, because of what happened in Orlando. I wasn’t sure who you were,” they said. I walked away questioning my service to a country where the amount of melanin in my skin somehow equates to my level of patriotism and loyalty to this country.
This is not the way. We cannot fear each other, for we are more alike than we are different. As a soldier, you realize that what binds us together is not dependent on the color of our skin, the religion that calls us, or the people we choose to love. We choose to put that uniform on and are willing to pay the great price of our lives because protecting the ideals we know this country can live up to — the ideals of diversity, inclusion, equal rights, religious freedom — is vital to our continued freedom and the health of our democracy.
Today, there are many places where we can make our stand. In Illinois, the current legislative session has three bills that we should support: The Illinois Trust Act (SB0031), the Immigration Safe Zone Act (HB0426), and the Student Access Bill (SB2196).
We need to continue to engage our local city and state governments to protect our most vulnerable citizens. For the sake of our country, the ideals, and the values we all share, we must never lose hope that our similarities as a multicultural, diverse people can weave a fabric so strong that hate simply cannot tear it apart.
Arti Walker-Peddakotla is an Oak Park resident, a U.S. Army veteran, and a leader with Veterans for American Ideals, a Human Rights First initiative.