What is America to you?
Our families saw America as the green light across the sound. This morning, as we swore into office our first female Asian-American president, we were once again filled with that same sense of hope. Despite a history fraught with xenophobia and racism, we imagined our place here. At last, belonging.
“By not speaking up, we perpetuate the myth that our shame is caused by our repressive culture and the country we fled, whereas America has given us nothing but opportunity.”
― Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
“I keep America’s blessings tucked into every hollow place in my body.”
Shoes on my feet, satiety in my stomach, opportunity like dirt under my fingernails. I keep them where I know I can find them easily, in those moments when I get a little too close to forgetting how lucky I am. So if America asks me Do you love me?, I can remember that the soles of my feet have never had to walk over bomb shrapnel, and that my belly does not know what it means to collapse in on itself with hunger, and I can say Yes without lying.
––– Cindy, Vietnamese-American, 19
Salt Lake City, UT
“That’s not a real country, he mocks, laughing with those squinted eyes again.”
Padding across the puzzle-mat floor, I stretch to grab The Story about Ping from the bottom shelf.
I know why you’re reading that book, smirks the boy across from me as he jams Legos together into an uneven tower. You’re from China.
No, I say, shaking my head.
Japan? he asks, now squinting his eyes into little slits. Yelling something about fortune cookies and rice, he sloshes shing-shong-ling-long syllables that jar me like a cracked bowl on the floor flinging milk and cheerios to the ground.
No. Vietnam, I reply.
That’s not a real country, he mocks, laughing with those squinted eyes again. Stacking his legos into a misshapen skyscraper (that’s what America’s really about, he says), he repeats the word ‘Vietnam’ over and over like the twang of a broken guitar.
––– Anna, Vietnamese-American, 18
Saint Joseph, MI
“That is the strange paradox of being an immigrant: accepted and rejected, with two homes and none at all, the bridge and yet the abyss below.”
It does not matter because as a two-year-old being led off a plane in a new world, my identity was transformed but not diminished. Did you know that before there was a war, my country was invaded and occupied by the Japanese, barely a hundred years ago? Did you know that my people were forced to take on Japanese names, that our athletes had to play and win for the Japanese side so that we would be robbed of the taste of victory and the chance of freedom, even in our secret hearts? Maybe my first country doesn’t even count as part of my identity in the face of everything, in the ugly truth that we aren’t even united as a nation, that to this day the ironically named Demilitarized Zone on the 38th parallel divides the land into North and South. But maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe it’s enough for me, for my people, for the immigrants, for all people who have ever been oppressed and ostracized, that our homes and our heritage are ours by the choices we have made and not things that have been passed to us through our blood.
––– Cailyn, Korean-American, 17
West Chester, PA