My Favorite Thing About America
We just moved into our new house in Oxnard, California (Oxnard has been described as being a "little LA" with almost every culture and ethnic group under the sun). We had been here about two weeks, and still I had not yet met my neighbors. To be honest, I had felt a little bit guilty about it. Today being "Independence Day", it seemed like the ideal opportunity to rectify this wrong. Plus, my neighbors were sending incredible smells wafting over the small dividing wall that separates our two houses. They had a bounce house for the kids, and around 25 people just lounging around the lawn. American flags wafted in the wind, as their miniature poles stood proudly around the back yard, saluting forward as if honoring the country by their presence. So, I ventured over to meet my neighbors. Plus, my own flank steak preparations, having been marinated since 10:00 this morning, were looking a bit tired and worn, even before they hit the grill.
It turns out that my new neighbors are Vietnamese. This is their story:
Forty-two years ago, they were living in Vietnam, near the border of Thailand. The country had already weathered a long series of wars in previous decades (the French, the British...). And now, they were living in the wake of the American police action there. Then, in 1975, Vietnam came under the control of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRVN). The capital was, of course, Ha Noi, the government was communist, and the regime was quite brutal to its citizens. Some of those who were brutalized were my next door neighbors. My neighbors were, by a miracle of God, able to flee Vietnam in 1978. From Vietnam, they absconded to neighboring Thailand, but because of similarly oppressive forces in that country, were forced to move to Malaysia. There in Malaysia they were interned as refugees for three long years.
Finally, in the early 1980's, because the United States was open to accepting "victims of foreign wars", and refugees from many different countries, my next door neighbors were allowed to come to the United States, under an amnesty program set up by the Reagan Administration. Today, all four children and parents live within a short distance from one another in Oxnard, California. Today, they are mostly all successful business people, and all of the family (totaling around 200) live in the northern Los Angeles city rim.
This family's story definitely has many more avenues of interest and intrigue. The grandfather, who I also met, named Lee, worked at one time for the FBI, as an undercover agent for the West against the communists.
Here's the thing that will remain with me. They told me that the biggest holiday of the year for their family will always be the Fourth of July. Let me just repeat that. The biggest holiday of the year for their family will always be the Fourth of July. The reason for their love of Independence Day is because, and I quote, "This is the holiday that celebrates the country that allowed us to begin again with our lives, and to start anew."
[The picture above is of my 5 year old daughter and her new friend who is a third generation Vietnamese American who goes to elementary school in Ventura].
So, My Favorite Thing About America....
Is the way that our country continually remakes itself. That, through acceptance and openness towards people from other cultures around the world, we find new ways of being "American". And what I most love is the way that our country improves when it is enriched by others - when the freedoms that we all enjoy - are extended to those who are deeply in need of them.
That's the American Dream!
All For Now,