I am an American. I was born on May 18, 1988, in St. Louis, Missouri.
I became a father for the first time this week. My son Kai is one of our newest Americans.
My father is an American. He became a US citizen the year I was born. He was born in a village in India and moved to America in 1979 to earn a PhD, and has since built 10+ small businesses here that have employed hundreds of Americans. I would not be here without him, and so many other Americans’ lives are better because of his work.
26 years earlier, Kai’s mom Shoua was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her Hmong family had fought with the Americans in the Secret War, and barely escaped after our troops left. This camp, sponsored by US federal funding, served as their home and sanctuary until thousands of them were flown to America to live here and become US citizens. Shoua and her family are Americans.
On the eve of Kai’s birth, Shoua’s family entertained her with stories about her birth and childhood in Thailand, and how far they had come since then, to this beautiful San Francisco hospital. Listening to their stories, I felt my American pride rising. For our families, America has lived up to its highest ideals and changed our lives.
If you ever want a booster shot for your American fandom, attend a Naturalization Ceremony. These brand-new Americans, who have persevered for countless years to reach this moment, are beaming with pride and patriotism. Growing up in St. Louis in the ‘90s, I remember living near a large Bosnian-American community. For all of our flaws, America does some awesome stuff. Our American tradition of accepting immigrants and refugees is one of our best practices.
America has had its bad times. This sign signaled one of the worst times in our history:
We still don’t know the name of this store owner. From the Library of Congress caption:
“Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at 13th and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.”
This man truly believed in the American Dream. He traveled thousands of miles across an ocean, likely with little to no money in his pocket, on the promise that hard work plus ingenuity would equal success in this great new world. And, in a key moment of weakness, we stole his freedom. We stole his American Dream.
I’d like to think that he got out of that internment camp, and managed to rebuild his life and possibly even his business. Maybe it’s true; maybe it’s wishful thinking. No matter what happened, we owe it to his legacy, and to the legacy of every American citizen, to fight for our common civil rights and protect each other from becoming the “other”.
America is facing another bad time, where immigrants and refugees are again being vilified and persecuted by our worst politicians and their followers.
We must stand in solidarity with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow Americans, against these attacks.
No matter your race, religion, political, sexual, or any other association, everyone here can proudly state “I am an American.”
When this President tries to divide us and vilify and persecute some Americans, it is an attack on all Americans. We must stand together with our people and fight for their rights, our rights.
We are all Americans. We will fight divisiveness with unity. And we will win.