I began this post as a letter to my loved ones, and then more words came and I was left with something that was hard to contain in a single email. So, I’m sharing this with you here, and now, because I like you and I love you, and I want to begin a conversation together. If we don’t’ see eye to eye, please feel free to reach out to me and we can exchange thoughts.
I just wanted to share something that I’ve been thinking about, and encourage you guys to consider supporting some of the organizations that have been mobilizing against Trump locally and nationally. It would mean a lot to me if you would give this some thought, and start having conversations about this at home and with others. I wish that we could be having his conversation in person, but I’ve tried to collect some ideas that I’ve had and would love to talk to you guys some more about these things if you’re interested.
My friends are immigrants.
Going to Penn gave me a huge network of friends that hail from all over the world. I’m really lucky to have learned from their perspectives in my classrooms and conversations, and owe a lot of my personal growth in the past four years to the places (like PAACH and the other cultural centers) that gave me a chance to explore and develop my interests. I have friends and classmates who were undocumented, and friends and classmates who arrived legally from the countries that are now targeted through immigration bans. My friends are afraid, and that scares me. We’re an interfaith community that is rich with diverse traditions and love for one another. I want to believe that love trumps hate, especially at a time like this.
More recently, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of Yenching Academy, which brings together scholars from around the world to study together here in China. This is something that has also continually expanded my perspective and broadened my definitions of diversity. I’m fortunate to be here, but I can’t help but think that this chance to build international friendships becomes increasingly unlikely in an America that is driven by xenophobic policy and where thinly veiled hate-speech (and sometimes, hate-speech that is not veiled at all) becomes a norm.
We are immigrants.
I am an American today because my great-grandfather was an undocumented immigrant to the United States. He broke the law to enter this country, crossing a border that was tightly regulated by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. My family was fortunate that he was able to make this journey successfully and eventually set up a life and advocate for his wife and children to join him. His case, while not unique, is extraordinary to me and speaks to the resilience and resistance necessary to exist as an immigrant in the country that I now consider home.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was an inherently xenophobic law, rooted in the belief that all Chinese immigrants were morally depraved, unassimilable, and their culture was fundamentally incompatible with core American values. It was the first immigration law that targeted specific ethnic groups, but was by no means the last. Immigration bans today continue a sad tradition of intolerance and underscore the role that white supremacy has had in defining who is allowed to enter the country legally and become American.
Though I know most of the research that I’ve done has focused on tracing our Chinese family’s roots, and learning more broadly about Asian immigration policies and practices, there’s a lot also to be learned from the history of Irish immigrants and their reception to the United States. When the droves of Irish immigrants through Ellis Island, they were not faced with the same degree of scrutiny as Asian immigrants to the West Coast’s Angel Island. This was an enormous privilege. Still, the Irish faced discrimination and mockery for bringing their foreign faith to America’s shores, and living conditions in Irish tenement slums were far from easy.
I think about touring through Hoboken with my Grandfather, having him point out buildings throughout the neighborhood where his family lived before they shuffled to yet another tenement for not being able to make the rent. These neighborhoods are now gentrified, housing the chic New York City commuters that have little in common with the Irish barge-workers barely two generations before. There is enormous privilege granted in the ability to assimilate into the United States – anti-Irish sentiment cannot be compared to the continued racism, xenophobia, and discrimination against immigrants and communities of color today. Still, we have to remember what history has taught us: that arrival has never been simple, and that coming to America is never a decision made easily. Nobody leaves home unless they believe that the world that they are moving to is safer, more prosperous, and more kind than the one that they are leaving behind.
The pictures above feature my paternal and maternal grandfathers – both the children of immigrants, and in the case of my GongGong, an immigrant himself. I encourage other friends to consider family immigration narratives and to contemplate how processes of inclusion have long been built on the forcible exclusion of others. Please do not be complacent: intolerance cannot be taken as a norm.
Where we can support:
I’m donating to the ACLU today, and hope that you’ll join me and support organizations that work to ensure that all people seeking a home in the United States will be treated with respect and dignity.
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. – Winston Churchill
Donate to the ACLU today to help protect the rights and liberties of people across the country. Right now, we’re:
- Protecting free speech and the right to protest
- Defending reproductive freedom
- Fighting anti-LGBT discrimination
- Advocating for expanded privacy protections
This vital work and more depends on your support. Make a donation to the ACLU today — help us fight back.
The National Immigration Law Center will fight against unjust new immigration laws and policies at every turn, using the courtroom if necessary. We will not back down. We will not stop fighting for justice and dignity for all. Join us!
In these divisive times, it is more important than ever to remember that immigration is about people not politics. Your gift helps provide new Americans with the opportunities, skills and status to reach their fullest potential.
If you have other organizations that you’re passionate about, and that you’d like to see included on this list, please reach out to me and let me know! I’d love to have this as a working list of groups supporting immigrant issues, and know that there are many gaps that need to be filled.
Give what you can. For me, while I’m away from the United States, financial support is one of the greatest things that I can offer because I cannot physically stand in solidarity at protests. For friends and family members who are still students, recent graduates, and otherwise not in a position to donate money – there are so many ways to help. Showing up and being present is just as important. Making calls is important. Giving your time and energy when and where you can is important.
Much love. Holding everyone in my thoughts right now.