I was born in 1958 to parents who neither graduated from college nor came from privileged backgrounds. My mother, the daughter of Kentucky farmers, left high school in December of her senior year to board a train in Evansville, Indiana bound for Las Vegas where my father waited. Her childhood was typical of someone born in 1935 and raised in rural Kentucky. Stable, family oriented and hardworking. She was the last child born to older parents, who grew up with older siblings and cousins. As she often says, “We were poor but we always had food to eat and clean clothes. We were like everyone else so we didn’t know any different.”
My father, born in 1924, had a much less glamorous start to life than my mother. His father was in the U.S. Army stationed at Schoefield Barracks in Honolulu, Hawaii and his mother a young Chinese woman living with her family who had left China before the turn of the nineteenth century. Following her death from tuberculosis just weeks before my dad turned one, his life became one long transient journey. Moving constantly; changing schools so often he never had a chance at keeping up and obtaining a true education. A shame, since he was naturally intelligent and never had the opportunity to reach his God-given potential. A mixed race boy in the 1930s and 1940s never really stood much of a chance under these circumstances. As if the color of his skin wasn’t tough enough, the lack of structure and stability in his life could have led to a much different outcome. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade and was, for all practical purposes, on his own until he married my mother.
Bob and Ann always worked hard. They did what was necessary to care for their family. Mom has an entrepreneurial can-do spirit which led to several small businesses during our formative years. Dad was her support and partner in these endeavors. Whether physically making things for her designs or helping with the household and the kids so that she could work, they were a team. Mom, at 85, still works! She uses her talents to sew designer home decor which helps her maintain an independent lifestyle. I find myself already planning what I do (yarn and fiber art) so that I too can still be working at her age.
My brother and I grew up knowing that hard work is required of a responsible adult and contributing member of society. I acknowledge this is not the model found in all homes. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. I do not believe that there is any one size fits all solution. Opportunities abound if one looks for them and does the work. No one will ever convince me that the United States of America isn’t the best, most generous, helpful, and loving country in the world. While there are those who will violently disagree with me, I stand firm. Millions of people from around the world want to come here for a better life. Many of them die trying.
This is the prism through which I view the world. Mine is valid. Yours could be different and yours is valid to you as well. We all have our differences but what unites us is our humanity and our identity as Americans. This is not a referendum on immigration, legal or undocumented. I am speaking to a heart and mindset of being an American. I liken our country to a family. We don’t all have to agree but we must stick together when times get tough. When there is a threat, we rally together to protect our own and find solutions. Families take in new members. Adjustments are made to the social dynamics and then we move on as a group made up of individuals. That is the strength of family and that just one of the strengths of the United States of America.
Tomorrow I will bring you the perspective of a dear friend who just became a citizen last year after over ten years of hard work for the privilege.