When do I get to be an American?

This week’s shootings in Atlanta are unfortunately the latest in a growing number of violent acts against the Asian American community. These recent events — from the Atlanta shootings to multiple, horrible stories of (elderly) Asian men and women being attacked unprovoked — sting. The victims could have been my parents. They could have been my childhood friends. It could have been me. 

I was born in Seoul and am the proud immigrant daughter of immigrants. My parents moved to the States in their thirties with little money to their names. They had university degrees from prestigious South Korean institutions that held no weight in corporate America, especially with their lack of English skills. We were the first of our families to set out West, and we came in pursuit of the American Dream — that their children will have access to opportunity and a more prosperous life. And we made it. 

My parents are lifelong entrepreneurs, founders of their own small businesses — from an international import/export business to a luxury goods business to brick-and-mortar retail to an e-commerce site. When they immigrated to America, they accepted that they’ll have to pay the cultural and economic price to earn a brighter future for their children. So they tolerated being made fun of for their accents. They bit their tongues when being scammed because they struggled to negotiate in English. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and immigration legal services without benefitting from Social Security, Medicaid, traditional corporate benefits. They swallowed the loneliness that comes from being made to feel different yet rendered invisible. 

I have my father’s insatiable curiosity and penchant for thinking big. I have my mother’s compassion and steady resilience. But we are also not cut from the same cloth. I, alongside millions of Asian Americans in the U.S., see myself as American. Not all of us were born here, but we grew up here. We studied here. We earned jobs here. We build companies here. We contribute to our communities here. We don’t see ourselves any less deserving of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness afforded to any other American.

If your Asian friends haven’t publicly shared their reactions to the recent acts against the Asian American community, it may be that they are still processing. Asians are not a monolith. There are 21+ million Asians in the U.S., and different ethnic groups have their own unique cultural values and individual priorities. There are many of us who have had our own privileges, and we may be unpacking our own frustrations towards a society that encourages meritocracy yet doles punishment for not neatly fitting into preconceived expectations or threaten existing hierarchies.

Ultimately, the United States is beautiful because we embrace a kaleidoscope of cultures and backgrounds. I hope we can look to the ties that bind us together and work toward defending what makes this country and we Americans special in our values and ambitions.

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