To One Immigrant And His Family, America Is Already Great

Oct 13, 2016

From L-R: Kurt Rutherford, Erin Rutherford, Benjamin Rutherford, Janet Geary, Leslie Rutherford and Jackson Rutherford.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The Rutherfords are a family not easily pigeonholed.

They live in a modest home in Bethel Park. Dad, Kurt, 46, works in the Medicaid division at UPMC. Mom, Leslie, 44, stays home to take care of the house and manage their three kids’ busy schedules.

This time of year, it’s football that monopolizes evenings and weekends.

This story is part of Essential Pittsburgh, an ongoing series exploring how Pittsburgh lives, and how it's evolving.

Both 11-year-old Jackson and 13-year-old Benjamin play. Jackson also loves fishing, while Benjamin likes reading and playing the violin. Their 15-year-old sister, Erin, enjoys singing in her school choir and shooting with the school rifle team.

She’s following in the footsteps of her grandma, Janet Geary, 74, who lives with the family and who also shot for Bethel Park High School when she was young.

Janet hunts, as do Kurt and Leslie, and all three kids have accompanied them on hunting trips.

“I was brought up that …  guns are not toys,” she said. “You don’t play with guns, you don’t show off guns, you don’t show off what you can do with guns.”

Leslie said she’s in favor of stricter background checks for gun purchases, and that’s one of the reasons she’s voting for Hillary Clinton.

In fact, all three adults are voting for Clinton and all three kids said they are happy to hear it.

“Donald Trump is not a good person,” said Erin. “It’s just really frightening, I guess, to realize this man has gotten so far in the election with what he’s said.”

Benjamin agreed with his older sister.

“It makes me feel bad because … If he really wanted to make America great again, then he would try to make everyone who lives in America feel welcome,” he said.

UPDATE: 90.5 WESA's Liz Reid caught up with the Rutherfords after the third presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Kurt said Thursday that Trump's "thin-skinned" comments could have dangerous consequences. Listen below.

That idea – of making people feel welcome in this country – especially resonates with the Rutherfords. Kurt was born in Guyana, and came to the U.S. with his single mother and his sister when he was 10 years old.

The whole family said they are bothered by Trump’s immigration policy proposals to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and to ramp up deportations. Kurt said Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is logically inconsistent with his campaign slogan: Make America great again.

“If America wasn’t great, why would people still want to come?” Kurt asked. “This country was founded by immigrants. People came from all over this world to make the United States what it is, and now we’re saying ‘Oh, well we’re pure Americans, so therefore we don’t want anybody else to come in.”

He said the idea that immigrants are hurting America is part of a larger lie being perpetuated by Donald Trump.

“There seems to now have been this opinion that if minorities, be they black, Hispanic, women, gay, transgender, whatever, if they gain a right, then I lose something,” he said.

Kurt said his viewpoint is also strongly influenced by his experience as a black man in America. He said he’s been pulled over for no reason and stopped leaving Wal-Mart after buying electronics. Leslie, who is white, got angry when she recounted the Wal-Mart story, but became tearful when thinking about her children.

“The stop and frisk thing is absolutely terrifying,” she said.

Leslie said, after the first debate, she went up to Benjamin’s room to talk with him about what the widespread use of stop and frisk under a Trump presidency could mean. She said her son told her he’d never be able to go outside wearing a hoodie again.

Both Leslie and Kurt said they aren't straight party line voters. Rather, they vote for the candidate whose policies align best with their values.

It’s worth noting that the Rutherfords talked more about Donald Trump than about the candidate the whole family said they want to become president, Hillary Clinton. But Kurt, Leslie and her mother Janet insisted they are voting for Clinton and not simply against Trump.

Janet said her biggest issues are child welfare and women’s reproductive rights, but that she’s also attracted to the symbolism of electing the first female president.

“To think that I would get, at 74, would get to see the chance that a woman could become president of the United States, it blows my mind, it’s phenomenal,” she said.

All three adults said they simply see Clinton as more presidential. She has the experience, they said, and the demeanor to be commander in chief.

“Hillary Clinton is a stateswoman. She understands how to handle herself on the international stage, where Donald Trump comes off as this bully,” Kurt said.

This is the last in a five-part series exploring how Pittsburgh-area families experience the debates and dramas of the 2016 election.