Across my immigrant family’s history in the Americas, there was always a cultural hostility towards America, for reasons that I am not well acquainted with. When I was a kid I was taught that America was full of backwards looking, greedy people who were not like me, and not who I was as a native of Southeast Asia. That they were hostile to immigrants, especially from this part of the world. For many decades, I believed these beliefs to be true.
Recently, however, I have seen that America does indeed have my back.
Last week I was in a car with my dad, and we were passing a law enforcement facility. Dad said to me that the officer I am looking at has an Iranian passport. Although I could not make out the words, this felt like vindication to me.
And in a way it was. Although there was no emotional response, my mind was racing, especially since this officer serves in a law enforcement position with so much responsibility over our lives.
The fact that this is apparent after having lived through one of the bloodiest wars in history, and living through rampant racism in parts of America I thought I knew, was confusing at best.
But this incident sent a clear message: America knows me, and I am a proud American.
I will say that I am very proud to be an American, and feel America to be the most important and inspiring country in the world. But even now I have come to the realization that not everyone in America feels the same way, and if America wants to be the strongest country in the world, it will have to work on its diversity.
No one wants to be comfortable in their race, race identity, class, or religion. To this day I cringe whenever I hear politicians make claims that Americans have an intolerance for those who are different from them. My family was the first Americans in the Midwest, and my father immigrated to California after undergoing slavery. My family came because this country is what made America, and nobody wanted to go home.
I will say that right now, the country’s disagreements over race, immigration, the constitution, and the First Amendment are very divisive and hurtful. That said, I do not think these disagreements and the fights for those rights will ever stop. There is too much at stake for me and for the rest of America to just pack it up and go home.
A dream big enough to sustain the values of the American Dream for almost 200 years has been built by lots of people, and all of them deserve respect, especially my Iranian-American family, whose family fled Iran at the height of the Arab Revolt. I’m glad I can say that now I know and feel that I am American. Because I know that there’s still a lot more progress to be made.