Every morning, on our way to my daughter’s school, I purposely drive past the same intersection. There, flying majestic and tall, is the American flag. And every morning without fail, my 3-year-old daughter squeals, “That’s our flag! The United States of America.”
To my daughter, the flag represents the only country she has ever known, one that she already feels deeply connected to. To me, hearing her say, “That’s our flag,” fills my heart with tremendous pride and gratitude. It brings forth memories of the struggle and sacrifice endured by my family on our journey to the West. A journey that is permanently etched into the fabric of my being.
One of my father’s greatest dreams was to come to America. He told me that in this land of opportunity, people from all walks of life and religions were welcomed. So when our new administration recently issued a travel ban on people from particular countries, I felt shaken. To me, the ideals that brought us here felt threatened. My hope is that this country that made our journey possible continues to do the same for all people who come here in search of a better life.
I am a first-generation immigrant. My childhood gave me a perspective that has been my greatest strength in all areas of my life. My parents achieved the American Dream, but witnessing that journey was my becoming. While my children will already be living the life I hoped for as a child, the immigrant experience has instilled in me lessons that I want to pass down for generations to come.
Resilience is built in being able to start over. With two kids in tow, my parents made our journey to the West with no jobs and just the savings in their pockets. The new life they were about to begin would be vastly different from the one they left behind. By most accounts, the life that we had been living was ideal. My father was a high-level executive in his company and our childhood felt safe and comfortable.
But when war hit close to home, our sense of security was threatened and we decided to leave. As a preteen who had always seen my parents as calm and carefree, I now saw two people who were vulnerable and struggled to make ends meet in this new country.
These two opposite experiences, the yin and yang of my childhood, showed me the depth and character of the human spirit. And the resilience I gained in starting over as I grew up has carried me through reinventing my career and starting businesses.
As immigrants, we are natural risk takers. A Small Business Administration report from 2012 showed that immigrants have higher business ownership and business formation rates than nonimmigrants.
Because of my immigrant experience, my children will see that starting over is not something to be feared, but part of the brave adventure to their destiny.
Find your voice and let it be heard. When you come from a country where speaking your mind or openly practicing your religion may lead to persecution, you understand the true meaning of freedom.
Growing up as a young girl in a patriarchal society, I was rewarded for being an agreeable and quiet part of the status quo. My thoughts and opinions were in large part guided and dictated by my teachers and parents. But being a student in America required that I find my own voice. Here I saw young people like me being bold, speaking up and standing up for causes that they believed in. It was liberating.
My childhood has given me a unique perspective. I have found that so many Americans take for granted these freedoms that we are afforded. I want my children to understand my story and their grandparents’ story so that they know about those around the world who have to silence their own voices to survive.
So it is even more imperative that my children find their voices and let them be heard. As Joseph Campbell said, “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” I am thankful to be in a country that allows me to do just that.
Differences can be bridged by starting conversations. Almost every immigrant has experienced some form of the “where are you from?” followed by the “no, where are you really from?” question. Even if we have been living in America for more than 20 years, somehow saying “I’m from Texas” isn’t satisfactory. This form of questioning often makes me feel like I don’t belong anywhere. But before concluding ignorance, I try to think back to the first few years of living in this country.
One of my greatest teachers was a ninth-grader who sat across from me during school lunch. My mother never really understood the concept of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and would often pack Indian meals for me with the emanating smells of curry and spices. Embarrassed, I would often buy my school lunch or just not eat.
But on this particular day, possibly because of a lack of cash and hunger, I decided to take out my Indian meal and eat it. The girl sitting across from me looked at it peculiarly. “What in the world is that?” she said in a disgusted tone. Instead of stashing my lunch away (which was my first instinct), I replied, “It’s a paratha, which is a type of Indian bread. Want to try it?” “Um, sure!” she said, to my surprise. What followed was a conversation about how much she loved the paratha and how she wished she could try more food from other countries. I learned that day about the incredible power of starting conversations.
In our current political and racial climate, it is so easy to dismiss others who do not share our same views. But change and tolerance can be achieved only by starting and having hard conversations.
I know that my biracial children will experience racism, sexism and intolerance. But I want them to be bold enough to not push people away and instead seek to understand through education. This is how we bring radical change through our children.
The day I became a U.S. citizen was one of the proudest moments of my life. I am one of the 42 million immigrants living in this country today. We are a group of people, born in other countries, teaching our children to love this country. We fought hard, and some of us risked our lives to be here.
So every morning when my daughter proudly proclaims, “That’s our flag,” I smile. Because I know that this journey is just as much a part of her story as it is a part of mine.
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