Asian + Pacific Islander
In 1995, I stood beside my father as we recited the naturalization oath that welcomed us as co-equal, fully-vested members of American civic life. My father was a child of war and a lifelong refugee of British colonialism, which had left 20 million Indians violently displaced from their ancestral homelands in 1947. I knew him to be implacable in the face of most things, but on this day, this simple act of self-determination had moved him to tears.
This month, we celebrate Americans of Asian & Pacific origin who, like my Dad, chose to be Americans. We honor their tapestry of cultures, their achievements, and how their lived experiences permeate and enrich our national ethos. In this reflection, we must also bear witness to a sordid history of exclusion and violence that still haunts us today.
Like all Americans, we landed here from many places, at many points in history, and for many different reasons. Our ancestors’ exploited labor built America's earliest infrastructure, seeded our industrial agriculture, and helped unite our wild frontiers into a thriving world economy. Even so, policies of internment, segregation and civic exclusion set the standard for how the ugliest among us continue to stoke xenophobia, “otherness” and protectionism in the present.
We have long borne a disproportionate burden to prove that we belong here; that we are "real” Americans. An enormous amount of our labor is dedicated to putting those around us at ease. We struggle daily to transmit, in any manner available, that our beliefs and our presence pose no threat. That we bear no disease. That our allegiance is true. That our immigrant aspirations are no different than the first European settlers.
In this moment, it seems fitting to invoke the Confucian vision, which holds that a life befitting human beings is a life of relationships marked by mutual care and respect; that one can only achieve the fullest rewards of person hood through honor and connection, and by living harmoniously among nature and all its creatures.
This simple idea is embodied in a call to live ethically. It is not enough to decry the dehumanizing acts and rhetoric that diminish our collective America. We must make space for and honor the daily work that builds and connects us to one another and our communities.
Salma Quraishi, PhD
ENSA Board Member