My Family’s American Story

My father has lived in the United States for 37 years. He came here on the heels of the Vietnam War, as a refugee. He rarely shares details about war-torn South Vietnam, where he and his four older siblings were born and spent the first decades of their lives. I don’t blame him for being private about what he saw and escaped. Like many Americans, I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a place where military-grade weapons and guerrilla warfare are commonplace.

I am thankful that my father was able to enter this country. American values, like compassion and dedication to democracy, built this country and accepting immigrants and refugees is a vital part of the fabric of our country’s story. Those are the values that motivated my father to come to here. My father, like other refugees, didn’t come here to leach off Americans. He came here to become an American.

We are just like our neighbors. We pay our taxes, we volunteer in our community, and we work hard. I want my fellow Americans to know that we’re trying to build a better country for everyone, regardless of where you were born or what you look like. This is why it is such a travesty that individuals like my father --refugees, immigrants and their families-- have become a scapegoat for a divisive political agenda that seeks to make our citizenry weaker, not stronger.

In the wake of Trump’s November victory and his recent executive orders about immigrants, I’ve been deeply sad. Leaving innocent, law-abiding people to be stranded in airports, and threatening to disassemble thousands of families across the country, doesn’t improve security for Americans or our allies abroad. In fact, it turns Americans against each other because such policies are built on fear, not fact.

Under Trump’s administration, the United States is turning away civilians, mostly women and children, who have supported America in our fight against terrorism in countries like Iraq and Iran. What if President Carter or President Ford had turned away Vietnamese refugees, many of which helped America during the Vietnam War? I was brought to tears when I watched refugees get put back on planes after Trump’s travel ban was enacted. I know that they could have been my own family members 37 years ago. I can’t shake the feeling that we’re regressing and ruining the promise of progress that leads so many immigrants and refugees to the United States.

I have, however, found hope and immense pride in the public response to Trump’s hateful words, executive orders, and actions against immigrants, women, workers and people of color. I am in awe of the outpouring of support for refugees and immigrants in airports across the country. I am in awe of the grassroots action happening everywhere, all of the time, against hate and greed. And I am hopeful for our future, because I’ve seen thousands of women flock to activism by participating in programs like Emerge. Seeing that incredible reaction makes me truly hopeful about the path forward and away from what has felt like an impossible political reality.

As the daughter of a political refugee, I have experienced the best and the worst of what America has to offer the most vulnerable members of our communities. Our system has never been perfect, but there are always some people who are trying to form a more perfect union. My father is one of those people. He is incredibly proud of his activist daughter and the vision of social, political and economic equality for all that I fight for everyday because he sacrificed to come to this country. I won’t stop now. I am so grateful for everyone who has been a part of the fight in the past and for everyone who is joining the fight now.

 

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Nikkilia E. Lu

Emerge PA

Class of 2016

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