Whichever side you fall, you cannot deny that half of the country is hurting. That half of the country is in pain. In disbelief. In fear. Whichever side you fall on, you can acknowledge that there are people excited about this new era. About a leader like no other we have ever known. Whichever side you fall, there are two perspectives that deserve acknowledgement and respect. For after all is said and done, we are all in this together. Please.
My parents came to the United States of America with two suitcases of belongings as their entire inventory of wealth. My mother came to a country where she did not speak the language. My father came to a country and dove into a post-graduate program to receive his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in a language he had just learned to speak. My mother–from a wealthy family–that wept and begrudgingly allowed her to come to America, but made it clear that this would be a journey she must make on her own. She wrote home about seeing snow for the first time, about American grocery stores, but never spoke a word about the poorly insulated one room makeshift shed being the only place they could afford to live. She never wrote about the times when their landlord turned off their electricity because they were late on rent. My father, from a farming family in rural Taiwan that made ends meet by eating the over-supply of sweet potatoes generally reserved to feed their livestock. My father, who found his passion in the math and sciences, and dragged his desk out to the sole street light on the dirt road they lived on when it became dark to continue studying.
My father studied hard when he came into his graduate program. My brother was born within their first year of them being in America. To make ends meet, my mom took on odd jobs that she could do from home while taking care of my brother. She gratefully accepted any hand-me-downs to provide for my brother from other foreign graduate students as their kids outgrew clothes. To make ends meet, my mom kept a tight budget, allotting money for food and bare essentials.
My mom tells the story, with a calm and steady voice of when my brother was preschool age. She went to the store to buy milk, and she came short of the 19 cents it cost for his milk. She rummaged through her purse, in her pockets, and ultimately felt as if there was nowhere to hide, but to swallow that lump in her throat and nonchalantly say she would come back for it later.
She tells the story of when she was so excited that my brother had a friend come over for a play date that in the weeks following, she encouraged my brother to invite his friend back. After being met with silence on numerous urgings, my brother ultimately replied, “He said he couldn’t, because his mom said our house was not a real house.” She turned that heartbreak into strength, and vowed at that moment, that she and my father would put every ounce of their energy into providing for my brother and his siblings to come, so we would never feel less than or have the opportunity to feel humiliated in this way.
Slowly, but with unwavering strength, my parents did just that. They carved out a life for themselves. A 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom life in the suburbs of West Des Moines, Iowa. They became American citizens. They raised three children that fully identify as Americans with families of their own, fully entrenched in the communities that they serve.
My parents’ story is the story of one American dream. Immigrants that paved their own way through hard work and heart ache. That made an amazingly better life for their family and fought to provide the wealth of American opportunities within finger’s reach for their children.
But my parents’ story is only one story of one American dream. There is also the American dream of the little boy that grew up knowing he should like girls, but instead fell in love with the man of his dreams as an adult. There is also the American dream of the little girl who grew up with a single mother working three jobs who never got a free ride and wondered if her daydream to pursue college was just a far away fantasy. There is also the American dream of the African American boy who grew up in a middle class family, whose mom is on the PTO, and yet he is still being convicted of a crime he did not commit because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color. There is also the American dream of the boy who came from three generations of law enforcement who puts on that blue uniform for the first time knowing that he is carrying the great responsibility upheld by his family to serve and protect with pride and dignity. There is also the American dream of the boy who picks education over the violence on the streets he walks every day, who never feels the encouragement that his choices are the right choices. These are American dreams. These are the dreams we need to protect.
Whichever side you fall on, remember that our country is about heart, about hope, about fostering these American dreams. As we all breathe our next breath, let’s breathe together knowing we share this air, we share the land we live on, and we share this country. Let’s respect and embrace one another with open minds with the ultimate goal to carry one another forward. Let’s leave no one feeling marginalized or left behind. While some of our hearts are breaking and some of our hearts are feeling empowered, let’s fight hard to unite when we need it most.