On Becoming a Citizen

“Our nation of immigrants, just added one more new American, and I wanted to share how full my heart is.” Continue reading

Change is the Word

Change is the Word

So, I went to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler this weekend and found it emotionally powerful and riveting. Wow. I cannot tell you how many times I got all teary with a major lump in my throat. But, once I … Continue reading

An Undocumented Youth

Last fall, I was captivated by a man I met at a screening of a PBS documentary called, America By the Numbers, which is all about the changing face of America and its impact on the elections. He was one of the speakers and, as he spoke, I was struck by how much he knew about immigration and its influence on presidential politics.

Wong at age 11.

Wong at age 11.

He talked in a thoughtful, soft-spoken sort of way. And, as he presented a slew of statistics, the conversation soon turned to undocumented immigrants, and more specifically, to him. Quite matter-of-factly, this expert on immigration mentioned that he, too, had been an undocumented immigrant.

The entire audience, 100 or so of us, did a collective double take. Did we hear right? Had this scholarly young man, a faculty member at a prestigious university, just say he grew up as an undocumented youth?

Yep, it’s true. His name is Tom K. Wong and I was so taken with his story that I had to interview him. So, just before the holidays, we sat down and chatted about his life, his dreams, and his mission to help other undocumented immigrants become citizens, too.

I learned so much in our short time together, but the biggest takeaway for me was realizing that when most of us think of undocumented immigrants we picture a Latino face. A Mexican face. But in doing so, we are missing the point.

Undocumented immigrants come in all shapes and sizes and from all parts of the world.  True, there are many undocumented Latinos living among us.  But there are also countless undocumented Asians, Europeans, and Canadians. They don’t all “climb over a wall” to get here. Nor, are they all smuggled into the country. Some arrive on planes or trains. Legally at first, with a visa, and then the visa expires and they’re still here.

For the undocumented children, who were brought here by their parents, this may very well be the only country they know. They have friends here. They’re going to school here, and playing kickball, too. And often, they don’t know the truth about themselves.

There are many paths to becoming an undocumented immigrant.   But there are so very few to becoming a citizen.

And, the undocumented are not all migrant workers, maids, janitors, and the like. Some have white-collar jobs. Like Tom, who is on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego.

I hope you’ll read my interview with Tom that I wrote for my new Hey Neighbor! blog. His is quite a fascinating story.

Please be sure to read Tom K. Wong on Life as an Undocumented Youth  and do let me know what you think! Here’s a preview:

Tom K. Wong is haunted by a childhood memory. It is of being awakened in the middle of the night by his mother, and being taken into the hallway, along with his older brother. There, she held them both tightly and sobbed while helicopters hovered overhead…(Click here to read more.)

Still Fighting After All These Years

There are some who say, race is no longer an issue, and the proof is that we elected an African-American president in 2008.

I’m not sure if I agree. I’m a bit skeptical that hundreds of years of prejudice, unfairness and barriers, could have been wiped out with a single election.  But, what do I know? After all, I used to think that the Civil War ended in 1865 when it was declared, well, over. But, turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Years ago, before I moved to California, I’d moved to Maryland and, if you know anything about Maryland, you know that it’s one of those states that seems to straddle the North and South. Well, in my 3 ½ years of living there, here’s what I noticed:

Every time we went on a family outing, spending the day at a fair, a harvest festival, or some other community event—whether in Maryland or nearby Virginia, there’d be men, and sometimes women, reenacting a Civil War battle. In 42 months, I must have witnessed at least a dozen such reenactments.

Which just goes to show you: the Civil War hasn’t ended. It lives on and on, in a proverbial loop, in some parts of this country. It’s not easy letting go of old wounds. It’s probably why in some states they still fly the Confederate flag.

The official end of the Civil War was about 147 years. Perhaps that’s not enough time to let bygones be bygones.  Maybe the reason this war continues to be relived by so many, is for purely innocent reasons–a love of war, a love of wearing uniforms, and a love of flying flags–and nothing to do with any attempt to hold on to the glory days of the genteel, Old South. When men were gentlemen, ladies enjoyed their leisure, and slaves were the foundation of a lifestyle that made it all possible.

No doubt, these reenactments are intended in some way to teach the next generation about a period in American history.  But, to watch these battles relived, I can’t help but wonder if the participants are also trying to re-write history. Maybe they’re hoping this time they’ll get it right and experience the taste of victory?

True story:  When my son was about three, we went to Virginia for a summer festival. You know the kind. Where they sell crafts made by local artisans, and have activities for the kiddies. Where you can buy corn on the cob and sausages on the grill.  After walking around quite a bit, on that hot, humid day, we sat down at a picnic bench, where I overheard a conversation between a mother, who happened to be white, and her son.

The son, a pink-cheeked boy of about six, pointed to a scrimmage underway on the hillside, and said, “Mommy, what are they doing up there?”

The mother replied, “Sweetie, they’re reenacting a battle from the Civil War.”

I looked up and, sure enough, there were men in the distance, in full Civil War regalia. Some wearing the uniform of Confederates and others dressed as Yankee soldiers.

“What’s the Civil War, Mommy?”

The mother then explained about the war between the North and the South, as best she could to such a young child. Finally, the boy asked the question any kid would want to know, “Who won the war, Mommy?”

The mother’s response to this question surprised me. Forlornly, she shook her head, and sighed, “We lost, Dear. We lost the war.”


This is how it starts. A word. An expression. A seed is planted. It’s them against us, us against them. As we continue to deal with the shakeout of a war that ended long before any of us were on this earth.

Note how the mother didn’t say, the North won or the South lost. She said, “we lost.”  As if the war had ended just the week before, instead of 147 years earlier. As if the defeat—losing the war and freeing the slaves—still weighed heavily on her heart. And yet, maybe it does.

Maybe it’s a part of what ails this country today. Once defined by region, the North and South, now, because of personal mobility, defined instead by party affiliation, the red states and blue states. The scars of the past are firmly implanted on our beings.

Which is why I wonder, if someone can harbor strong feelings about the Civil War, several generations later, then how can race ever become a non-issue? Reminds me of the Oscar and Hammerstein song, You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught, from the musical, South Pacific.

You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Prejudice. We pass it on, generation to generation. We hold grudges along with our preconceived notions. Seems to me, it’s easier to forget where you last placed the car keys than it is to let go of feelings ingrained in our youth.But, what do you think?

Be sure to visit the Race 2012 website and check out our amazing bloggers! You’ll find a complete list of their posts right here, on the Race 2012 Blogging Project page.

Finally, I leave you with an excerpt the 1958 film version of South Pacific, starring John Kerr and Rossano Brazzi.

The Race 2012 Blogging Project Begins

Race was an issue during the Civil Rights era. Is it still an issue today?

If you ask me, with 40 days left to the election, the best reality show around just kicked it up a notch.

I’m talking, of course, about the 2012 run for the presidency. I mean, just think about it. There’s enough drama here—machinations,  angst, he said/he said accusations, secret tapes, backstabbing, blunders, greed, politicos being thrown under the bus, backroom meetings, not to mention out-and-out brawls—to spice up at least a dozen reality shows.

And, while everyone’s wondering who’ll end up with the rose, or be thrown off the island–there can only be one president, after all–the real question to consider, is:

Is race a factor in this year’s election?

On the surface, this may seem like a yes or no question, but, really, it’s one that begs an explanation. Closer examination, if you will. And the answer, no doubt, will be influenced by your race, your religion or lack thereof, your class, and other key markers that make you, well, you.

For, these factors form the prism through which you see the world, including politics. And, there is no one way to answer this question. There are countless ways.

I have voted in nine presidential elections. This upcoming one will be my tenth. And, while the question of race didn’t really occur to me the first eight times I voted, I started thinking about it in the 2008 election when, for the first time, we had an African-American presidential candidate running for office. And, it’s an issue that continues to pervade my thoughts today.

Which is why, I’m pleased to launch the Race 2012 blogging project.  From now through the election season, Race 2012 bloggers will be posting about this very subject. And, all the views conveyed in their posts are, most definitely and unequivocally, their own. But, they’ll be speaking from the heart and sharing their personal feelings about race and the election.

Some of the bloggers have already posted, and I am including links to their posts on the new Race 2012 page, which I’ve set up right here on this site.  Please visit the page and keep coming back to check for updates.  I encourage you to read these posts and then add your own comment, for we want you to be part of the  conversation.

If you’re interested in blogging with our team, just let me know and I’ll send you some information.

The Race 2012 blogging project is conducted in conjunction with a new PBS documentary, Race 2012: A Conversation About Race & Politics in America. This one-hour election special, which airs Tuesday, October 16 (please check your local listings), uses the presidential election as a lens through which to examine America’s increasingly complex racial landscape.

Race 2012 navigates the high-stakes world of racial pollsters, strategists, spin doctors and candidates as they compete for voters of many ethnic and racial groups. The election will serve as an important indicator of the role race will play in our nation’s political future. How will today’s immigrants shape our electoral landscape? What effect will the economic differences have on America’s political future? Race 2012 offers a fresh view of the shifts that are transforming our nation.

I, for one, am looking forward to having a thought-provoking exchange of ideas and beliefs. And, who knows? Maybe, together, we can get to the bottom of this, and thus solve all our economic and social problems in one fell swoop.

Too much to hope for? Perhaps. But, keeping the conversation going is a good place to start. Your thoughts?