The SWAAY Story: "I Am An Immigrant"


I am an Irish immigrant. SWAAY's Founder is a Muslim who emigrated here from Morocco, and our Managing Editor is a first generation Cuban whose grandparents arrived on JFK's Freedom flights. Our stories are as diverse as they come, our backgrounds worlds apart and yet we have all ended up here in New York at the same time. There is no cosmic cause that explains why we have all met each other - there is simply the fact that this country has welcomed immigrants since its birth, and here we are, three immigrants of some variation, legally living in this country. And yet for the past week we have been questioning our very status because of a ban that persecutes those executing their right to travel here under years of agreements and contractual legislation between their countries and this one. Yes, it's been temporarily stopped by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but with our new President responding with a law suit threat, it seems the ban is far from disappearing.

We are bemused.

I am from Dublin - I am Irish, and by extension, I'm European. But first and foremost, I am a person. I do not quantify or qualify myself in terms of my nationality - in fact, it is only one of many parts that make up the whole. And it is not nearly the most important.

In the 1800's however, this was a different story. Irish people were breaching the American border on ships plagued with disease, death and then, of course, disembarking from these ships in the state they were in, the Irish were quantified and qualified because of their nationality. They were dirty, desperate and fleeing a country that was very literally rotting from the ground up.

Sound familiar?

Courtesy of Talking Points Memo

It's because this story is one that has regurgitated itself time and again over the centuries - one that is retold when there is a large migration from anywhere to a land that promises more opportunity, wealth and growth. It's a story that has lead to the conception of visas and homeland security, and the coining of the term refugee status.

It is a story that (many choose to forget) led to the building of Manhattan - the cross country rail road and countless states, cities and towns across this nation.

The immigrants of America have very literally made the country what it is today, and this has been repeatedly proved over the last few weeks with stories from every corner of the country explicating how integral the presence of foreign nationals in this country is.


Belisa, our managing editor, is as American as they come. She arrives into the office every morning sporting a Venti Starbucks and an impossibly large personality, coupled with an American twang that would challenge the haughtiest of Valley Girls. Her olive skin however, would fool those who don't pay attention, and it's those people that have her — all of us — worried. Those that would chastise my Irish accent in my New York job, and her tan-coloured skin and American passport. She was never anything but American, and her heritage attests to the very reason people are parading the streets in protest of Trump's ban - because America has a history of saving the distressed, the exiled and the poor, not turning them away at customs.

Her grandmother came on President Kennedy's Freedom Flights, which ran from 1965-1973 transporting Cubans to Miami airport when Castro's malevolent plans for the country began coming to fruition. She arrived with nothing but hope for a better life. Hers was a situation similar to those fleeing a war-torn Europe back in the 1940s, whereby then President, Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a War Refugee Commission be established to help fleeing Jews from the persecution of fascist dictators.

"It always astonishes me the leaps of faith my grandparents took leaving everything and everyone they knew just for the promise of an opportunity-filled tomorrow for babies that had yet to be born. The foresight and bravery of those who risked their lives to come to America is intricately woven into the very fabric of our nation. It's who we all are."

-Belisa Silva

Iman, our Founder's story is a more recent one, told with more frequency and ease than that of the Irish fleeing the famine or the Cubans fleeing Communism. Her parents decided 12 years ago that they wanted their children to grow up encapsulated by the American Dream - two highly successful Moroccan engineers that abandoned their lucrative positions at home to introduce their children to a completely new and wholly different life. Their position was one millions have faced - one that called into question their very nationality, their devotion to the 'homeland.' Only, that wasn't a factor here, their children's future was the factor. They wanted better. They wanted the land that promised more.

"I was so angry with my parents for leaving our life in Morocco, where we had everything I thought we could ever want," says Iman. "I fell into a depression as a young girl in this country because I didn't know the language and I didn't know anyone. My parents constantly told me to believe in the American Dream, and that I could do anything I wanted. I didn't understand what this meant at first. However, after winning Miss New York US in 2015, earning my Masters and launching my business, all as a proud Muslim American woman, I can definitely say the American Dream is real."

Trump America Inc.

These past two weeks has seen a United States of America as divided perhaps as its ever been in recent history. Between the President breeding discontent in politics, as well as the people protesting for and against this immigration ban -- coupled with talk of secession -- there is certainly a revolution afoot.

The sheer enormity of the immigrant population in the U.S attests the fact that the ban is almost futile in its outlook. Migrationpolicy.org records that "The U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 42.4 million, or 13.3 percent, of the total U.S. population of 318.9 million in 2014, according to ACS data. Between 2013 and 2014, the foreign-born population increased by 1 million, or 2.5 percent. Immigrants in the United States and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 81 million people, or 26 percent of the overall U.S. population" - a staggering number, and an undeniable reason for the president to finish with the preposterous line of thought he is so dangerously circulating throughout the country - that immigrants are not welcome here. In that case - what do you do with the millions here already?

It is the beginning of a political climate that is separating people in the sand. There are those who believe the country should welcome everyone with arms wide open, and there are those who stand along the sidelines of the protests holding up signs in favor of walls and devision. It seems Trump's election has opened the floodgates and allowed those who favor exclusion to finally feel strong enough about speaking their mind.

While normally you would be hard pressed to hear a journalist speaking ill of free speech, but as Mr. Trump lumbers forward challenging freedoms that encapsulate the essence of the United States, I cannot help but wonder, what is the end game?

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.