Lawmakers embark on bipartisan exploration of our shared history

Along with Miami, Baltimore, and Los Angeles, New York City is a gateway to America. Decade after decade, the city has been the main port of entry for immigrants and citizens, building our country into the melting pot it is today. The fact is, whether you or your ancestors came here by boat or by foot, by choice or by chains, Americans share a common thread: We are by and large a nation of immigrants.

We believe progress can, and only will, be made on the issues of today by better knowing and understanding exactly where we, as a nation, have come from. That is why we are co-hosting The Faith and Politic Institute’s first-ever “Becoming America” pilgrimage, beginning Thursday evening. This event will bring a bipartisan delegation of more than 70 political, religious, community and business leaders from around the country to New York City to explore our shared story as a nation of immigrants.For three days, we will put aside partisan politics. There won’t be any discussions about pathways to citizenship or border security. Instead, we will take a historical look at our nation’s immigrant heritage.

From the start, our visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will remind us of our earliest immigrants. The group’s exploration of these and some of New York City’s other most-historic sites will highlight the history of immigration and the stories of our forefathers. We will also have the opportunity to learn our own genealogy, and we have no doubt our family histories will be more interconnected than we might expect.

At a naturalization ceremony for new citizens, we will meet with a few of our country’s newest immigrants. We will tell them the stories of our own families’ pilgrimages to America — the Crowleys from Ireland and the Diaz-Balarts from Cuba — and we will celebrate and share in the joy and hope that comes when taking the oath of allegiance. We will be inspired by the success stories of individuals like Ajay Banga, leading the business world as president and CEO of MasterCard Worldwide; Dr. Ronald DePinho, excelling in medicine as president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Sally Frishberg, showing us the emotional impact of immigration as a Holocaust survivor from Poland. 

But we don’t end the discussion there, by examining only the past and present. New York City, just like the new immigrants from throughout our history, is always looking forward. That’s why we will close our program at the Jewish Community Center in Jackson Heights, Queens, where we will visit those assisting immigrant communities and helping them make the transition to American life: teachers helping to prepare new citizens for the job force, youth leaders supporting their communities, and social workers helping immigrant families lift themselves and their children up.

For generations, places like Queens and Miami have welcomed new waves of immigrant populations, and the community has thrived as a result. Queens is a community where successful small businesses line the streets and families from different countries, ethnicities and cultures live side-by-side peacefully.

The face of Queens is ever-changing, but its story has remained the same. It is a community welcoming of others, where co-existence and tolerance are the norm, and ingenuity, entrepreneurialism and hard-work are the spirit of its people. A window into Queens is a window into our future, and we think the future looks bright for all of us.

Along with the lessons we are sure will be learned and re-learned from the “Becoming America” event, we hope that it will help us all remember once again how much we have in common, rather than how far apart we are. It is our history that binds us. It is what us makes us truly unique, truly American. And after we learn, explore and discuss our shared heritage, maybe then we can pick back up the vital conversations of today and find new hope, new ways to bridge the partisan divide and bring people together.

Crowley has represented New York’s 14th Congressional District in the House of Representatives since 1998. He is the House Democratic Caucus vice chairman and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Diaz-Balart has represented Florida’s 25th Congressional District since 2003. He is the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Conference and a member of the Appropriations Committee.