“I am an immigrant. I am also a human being, an American, a Vietnamese, an Asian and a refugee.” I’m all those things at once. I think that’s absolutely a crucial decision for me because we live in a society where people are pressured to choose their identities. Especially for Asian-Americans, we’ve grown up in a society that often makes us decide whether we’re all American or whether we’re Asian. That’s a false choice, so we have to rebel and proclaim that we can be many things at the same time.The writer is Tranh Nguyen, USC Associate Professor of English and American studies and ethnicities. He also has a recent Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel The Sympathizers, which my book club read and discussed while I was away and I have to get and read.
His statement just seems so self-evident. We aren't one of the many labels we bear. Think of all the labels people can (and do) use to think and talk about you. Everything from sister, mother, daughter, skier, reader, dancer, red-head, gardener, idiot, shopper, passenger, American, Alaskan, Republican, Italian, drummer, fisher, cook, teacher, neighbor, etc. You aren't just any one of those, you are all of those sometimes and some of those all the time.
But I hear people declare that someone can't or shouldn't be a hyphenated American. They have to choose, just as Professor Nguyen writes.
But this piece in the USC alumni magazine goes on to focus on refugees particularly.
"Refugees bring with them these histories that make potential host countries uncomfortable…. The reason they became refugees is what we ourselves might have had a hand in. Refugees are a living reminder that the things we take for granted—the safety of our homes, the safety of our country—are fragile. We see other countries being afflicted by war or natural disaster from a distance, and we assume that can’t happen to us, but if those refugees start coming to our shores, then they become these living reminders."That second sentence jumped out at me. Why did we get Vietnamese refugees? Because after the French pulled out of Vietnam and gave the Vietnamese their independence, the US insisted in jumping in and assuming that we could do what the French couldn't. And by 1975 we realized that we couldn't either. But a lot of people died before that happened. And a lot of money was diverted from building infrastructure and education to airplanes and guns and bombs and transporting soldiers half-way across the world. And eventually Vietnamese refugees, mostly people who, because they aligned with the US, were suspect when the US lost and pulled out.
Central American refugees are a major reason why Trump became the Republican candidate for president. We've used Central America as our private cache where we got bananas, sugar, coffee, and other commodities. We overthrew governments we didn't like. Reagan even made a deal to sell arms to Iran (even though they'd taken over the US embassy and kept Americans hostage there until Reagan was inaugurated) to get money to Nicaraguan rebels after Congress nixed any funding.
Some American politicians express shock about the possibility that Russia is trying to influence the US election, yet anyone with a knowledge of US covert operations to overthrow governments that weren't friendly to our interest has to be smirking just a little bit. See for example from Foreign Policy of seven nations the US overthrew.
The point is that we have often made life difficult in countries around the world to the extent that people needed to leave. We've even hurt economies by dumping surplus US agricultural projects into countries which destroyed the local agricultural infrastructure. While this CATO Institute analysis assumes all our aid has been catastrophic 'even if the intentions were good,'
I'd take some issue. A lot of AID did good things - particularly in health infrastructure and education.
I would also question the good intentions of most US AID. Another CATO commentary tells us most foreign aid is really aid to US business:
“'fully 80 percent of the foreign assistance budget is spent right here at home, on American goods and services.'” Moreover, claims the exporters’ lobby, aid also helps poor countries develop the institutions necessary to “foster trade, and to attract private investment - the very things that make possible American exports.”
Basically, US aid helped US companies by restricting the aid to US products, often surplus. Usually such aid helped US businesses more than the receiving country. And it often actually hurts the local businesses who couldn't compete with the sudden influx of cheap, subsidized US food or goods.
The idea that refugees are coming to the US because of things we did is not even imaginable for many, perhaps most, Americans because they have no idea what we've done around the world. And our schools and media tend to keep it that way.
But back to Nguyen's discussion of labels.
"Perhaps the biggest misconception is that refugees are only victims. People see these horrible images: The Syrian boy face down on the beach in Turkey has now become iconic. That image made me physically ill in a way I have not felt in a long time. It reminded me of the fact that the Vietnamese were portrayed in the same way. It led to the perception that poor Vietnamese people are victims. Of course, they were. The Syrian people, including that boy, are victims. But that doesn’t define them. The idea that refugees are victims simply becomes a way of not sympathizing with them. We continue to treat them as less than humans. If you see people only as victims and therefore as less than human, they’re still not the same as you are."Again, he's talking about people dismissing refugees as one dimensional - in this case 'victims'.
The only way I see that we can change people's attitudes about refugees is for them to meet them and other non-refugee immigrants.
And to remember that most immigrants to the US were well educated before they got to the US. Here are a few prominent immigrants to the US:
|Arnold Schwarzenegger |
And Anchorage has its own fair share of prominent immigrants who make a huge contribution to our city and state.