To be, rather than to seem

By Jess George, Executive Director

“MEXICANS GO HOME”

Those ugly words were spray painted on a billboard just outside Charlotte, a few miles from the center city beautification projects completed in anticipation of next week’s Democratic National Convention. The crude, anti-immigrant message feels light years, not mere miles, from the newly polished facade of the city. Can either of these images be the real Charlotte?

North Carolina’s state motto, “Esse quam videri,” is Latin for “To be, rather than to seem,” a phrase that calls upon North Carolinians to be authentic in word and action. When the nation turns its eyes on our fair city — a diverse metropolis in the new south — Charlotte, North Carolina will certainly play the part of a world class city. Yet how can we be “world-class” if we reject people from other parts of the world?

Furthermore, Mexican immigrants and other newcomers have made possible much of what we will be showing off  to visitors next week. Immigrant workers have built our skyscrapers, museums, and sports arenas. Immigrants staff our hotels,  restaurants, and convention centers. Most importantly, immigrant families are part of the cultural, social, and economic fabric of our community. If we are to live up to our state motto, wouldn’t the immigrants that have contributed so much to our city receive the same welcome as the politicians and celebrities who will parachute in for a long weekend? Sadly, this has not been the case.

Our state motto is taken from the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero’s treatise “On Friendship” which examines the qualities of good and bad friends.  While one act of vandalism does not represent the attitudes of the majority, it is a painful reminder of the ways we have not been good friends to newcomers in our community. We must ask ourselves if we are actually a welcoming community, or if we just want to seem that way?

The cruel words on the highway billboard have been covered. The visitors will soon leave town. However, we do not have to lose our renewed spirit of southern hospitality just because the cameras have gone home.  Let us remember who we really are — the old and new, the local and global, the resident and the newcomer — all authentically Charlotteans.

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Help us continue to make Charlotte, North Carolina a more welcoming place. Make an impact now.

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