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viewpoint

Twenty years

| Monday, August 28, 2017

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law, and it was not repealed until 1943. A little over 50 years later, in the winter of 1998, my parents and I came to the United States from Tianjin, China, with no family and a limited proficiency in English. I was 2 years old.

The thing about children is that they are easily overlooked, but they still see everything. I might have been 4, but I could see that I was different, even at my diverse preschool. I might have been 5, but I could see the way native English speakers looked at my parents when they stumbled over their English — the pity and the impatience. I might have been 6, but I could see that I would spend my first few years in America speaking for my parents when they couldn’t find the words themselves.

I am 21 now, and next year will mark 20 years in the U.S. for my family. In that time, I have seen the hard work and energy my incredible parents have put in in order to build a new life in a completely foreign country, thousands of miles away from friends and family.

Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed in which he stated that immigrants are once again becoming scapegoats. This reality hits me particularly hard because there was a time in the last century where my family would not have been able to come to the U.S. There was a time when hideous and racist propaganda was distributed in order to paint Chinese people as vermin, as unintelligent and as slave labor. There was a time when Chinese people lived each day under constant scrutiny and discrimination.

We are currently suffering from a bout of what I call ‘Not Me’ syndrome, in which people are apathetic and even fearful to of the struggles of others because it does not affect them personally. It is a privilege to be apathetic right now, and it is a privilege that millions of Americans and I do not have. In a country where your neighbor, your teacher, your friend and your co-worker could be and probably are immigrants, the issues of rising discrimination and questionable policies are no longer ones you can and should ignore. Nearly every group of immigrants has played the scapegoat at some point — likely your own family has experienced it decades ago. Immigration affects each and every one of us and is the bedrock of this nation.

Twenty years later and I love this country. Twenty years later and I am proud to be an immigrant, to be from a country whose people have once been hated and mistreated. Twenty years later and I am grateful for the thousands who came before my family in order to lay the groundwork, to demonstrate perseverance and to have made it possible for me to have grown up here.

I have a lot of hope for the future, even if it might feel a bit hopeless lately. My hope will grow as people slowly become more aware of the changing landscape and choose to speak up. Hate may hurt societies, but it is apathy that destroys them.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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