Seattle-based Irish woman Helen Lafferty aims to have immigrants in all 50 US states wear her badges in protest at the “toxic” anti-immigrant rhetoric.
How many immigrants do you interact with on a daily basis? How many immigrants do you work with or how many immigrants provide you with food or services that you use every day? Well, the “I am an immigrant” badges created by Irish woman Helen Lafferty aim to show you just how many immigrants of all nationalities you come across and interact with in your day-to-day life.
Tired of the “toxic” anti-immigrant rhetoric rising in the last number of years, Lafferty, originally from Co. Wicklow but living in the US for the past 31 years, decided to take a neutral approach to what she felt was the growing disdain being shown to immigrants across the country and the manner in which “immigrant,” in and of itself, was becoming something of a dirty word in the mouths of some.
“Obviously, during the last Presidential campaign there was a lot of really negative talk about immigrants and I just felt very upset at the way that the word was being demonized,” Lafferty told IrishCentral.
“My project isn't anything to do with supporting a particular candidate or person or party. It's nothing to do with that at all. It was the fact that during the campaign, it was just very upsetting that that word was being demonized, as if all immigrants are evil.”
Trump's travel ban provoked the "I am an immigrant" project
It was last January 2017, however, when the idea of Trump’s Muslim travel ban was first beginning to look like it could become a reality that she decided enough was enough in terms of the immigrant-bashing and, starting small from her base in Seattle, Lafferty began the “I am an immigrant” badge project, which has since grown to at least 28 states.
“The idea behind this is not to make an in-your-face statement but rather just to ask people to look at the person behind that word, to realize that immigrants (and their descendants) are the people taking our blood pressures, serving our food, picking our fruit and vegetables etc.” she explained.
“It is more of a humanizing act. Imagine if every immigrant, child, grandchild, spouse, and friend of an immigrant in the country was wearing one.”
She began with a batch of 100. The Wicklow native then distributed those to friends and family and it gradually expanded from there. It wasn't just Irish people and the descendants of the Irish looking for buttons but immigrants of other nationalities including England, Canada, Spain, Poland, The Philippines, India, Guatemala and Korea were wearing them with pride.
The range of "I am an immigrant" buttons is now not just limited to immigrants themselves
The range of the buttons themselves has also grown as interested parties wanted to voice their support through a badge, despite the fact that they themselves are not immigrants. As such, options now come in “I am an immigrant,” “I am the child of an immigrant,” “I am the grandchild of an immigrant,” “I am married to an immigrant” and “I am the friend of an immigrant," hopefully covering as many bases as possible for people to see the effects of immigration on the US population.
More than 1,600 buttons have now been distributed across the US. Lafferty is hopeful that she’ll eventually get one into every state in the country, although she acknowledges that, despite the positive reactions she’s received, there may be many immigrants who would be too fearful to wear a public statement showing that they are an immigrant in such a tense, charged political climate, where the immigration has become a white hot political topic.
Lafferty encourages immigrants to wear badges on behalf of those who can't
“I have a friend here who took a bunch of buttons and distributed them to many, many states ... she made the point that somebody had said to her there may be many people who would be afraid to wear these buttons,” Lafferty said.
“I'm not afraid to walk around anywhere with a badge that says ‘I'm an immigrant’ or ‘I'm the child of an immigrant,’ but other people might be and I was kind of taken aback by that. I thought, ‘God, maybe it's kind of arrogant of me to be doing that’ but she thought no, we are honoring those people by wearing them.
“One of the most important things for me and for the project is that it's not a political statement. It’s just a statement. It's just a fact. I'm just asking you to look at me and recognize I am an immigrant. It doesn't say anything about whether I'm legal.
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"I am an immigrant" buttons do not take a political stance on undocumented immigrants
“Somebody approached me one evening and he was like ‘What's with all the buttons? Everybody's wearing these buttons’ and then he launched into this thing about people from Mexico. I thought it was interesting because my button doesn't say anything about legal immigrants or illegal immigrants. It doesn't say anything like that. It's just asking you to recognize I'm an immigrant. It's not making any statement about immigration policy or borders or anything and to me that's the power of it. It's just a fact,” she said.
Lafferty set up a Facebook page through which people who are looking for buttons or want to donate can contact her looking for badges or donate for more to be made. She encourages all immigrants to take part in the project, spreading it as far as possible.
“As immigrants, Irish people are much better treated. That wasn't always the case historically, but we are much better treated than people with different color skin or those who don't have English as their first language,” Lafferty continued.
“It does come back to the fact that many people would not be comfortable to wear it. They'd be afraid, actually, so we're wearing it in their honor.”
If you want an “I am an immigrant badge” or any of the other buttons, you can contact Helen Lafferty via her Facebook page Immigrant Awareness Buttons. All money left over after production and mailing costs are covered will be donated to the ACLU.