If you asked my family how we came to America, you would get the same story with emphasis on different details. I was too young to remember; however; this is what I know. We did not leave a war-torn country, we were not starving for food, we were not fearful for our lives. My parents both lived in Shanghai, China where I was born. My dad was a very successful president of a rubber factory in Shanghai, and my mother worked in a factory away from Shanghai and would take the train home only on weekends. She did not like to be so far from home, and she did not like that she could never become something more than a factory worker. So, she became a tour guide in her free time and gave tourists tours of different popular sites in China. This job gave my mother the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. She impressed and charmed the tourists with her English and her personality, and she even became friends with many of them. She felt so comfortable with them that she began to tell them of her dream to come to America; the land of opportunity, which was illegal to talk about in China at that time. This is the part of the story where I lose the exact details, but the bottom line is my family ends up in America. We are a successful family – my parents own multiple homes and have almost no debt, and I am a doctor. It’s a story that I believe should be every immigrant’s family story.
The versions of our immigration to America vary widely. My mother’s version is that she came to America with $36 in her pocket and from that she would eventually bring her whole family to this country and we became successful because of her hopes and dreams for us. My father’s version is about the sacrifices he and his family made so that she could come to the country. What I think gets left out are the other details. It was the kindness and generosity of complete strangers who paved the way for us to come to America. They provided us with free tuition, free housing, and we were the charity family at Christmas time. They even gave us jobs whenever we moved to a new city. These people had no expectations, did not need anything in return, did not question our intentions, they were just always ready to help. We have stayed in touch with some of these people, and I considered them family; while I think they are grateful for that, I believe that they would rather us remember their kindness and pass it along.
Now that I am a grown adult with a child of my own, I have thought about our story and wonder what version I’m going to tell my daughter – and that’s where the ‘?’ in the title comes in. What I want her to know is that she is a citizen of Earth first and foremost. We are all one species living on this one planet, and if you are religious, we are all siblings and have been tasked by God to take care of each other, and this planet he has created for us (if you’re not religious take God out). If I think of it this way, then perhaps immigrant isn’t the right word, maybe I am an explorer or a settler or a traveler. Whatever my title is, I know it is my job to help other people and this planet. With the many opportunities given to me, I feel the need to do the same for others because if it weren’t for those generous Americans, I would not be who I am. Instead of being fearful of other humans, embrace them, help them, you don’t know their story, and many are fleeing countries or situations much worse than mine. Some of the smartest people in America – those curing AIDS, those who are trying to grow human organs, those building solar-powered cars are “immigrants.” What would we do without them?
When I think about what makes America great, it comes down to these few things. When there is an earthquake in Haiti, America is there to help. When there is an Ebola crisis in western Africa, America is there to help. When Mother Nature is showing signs of dying, America pushes for more environmentally friendly agendas. When people are being stripped of basic human rights, America is there to help. When people are fleeing their unjust countries, America welcomes them. America provides jobs for everyone in the world with purchasing power. Time and time again, America has shown what it means to be citizens of Earth.
This is my hope for my child; I hope she will grow up knowing that she is a citizen of Earth, a child of an immigrant with the heart of all that is good about America.