Across The United States this week we are celebrating many things. There is clear political division by health care, an upcoming Presidential election, international conflict, and more. If you watch the news, it is easy to get cynical about America these days.
This past week I met a very nice lady named Hong who has lived in America for twenty years. Hong is a wife, a mother, and a daughter and in her early 40s. She escaped her country for various reasons from what I picked up in conversation. As I listened to her, it was obvious that she came to our country for freedom when she said she was from Saigon. She did not call Saigon “Ho Chi Minh City,” renamed that after the Communist North Vietnam took over in 1975. I did not ask but Hong’s parents could have been those who didn’t get out when our embassy was dramatically evacuated in advance of invading North Vietnamese forces in 1975. It was clear that Hong escaped Vietnam to seek freedom with her family from communism. She and her family came here for a better life.
Hong is Catholic now and has a 10 and 12-year-old son and daughter. She came to the United States as a refugee with her parents, whom when working with a refugee group were able to select Nashville as a home where there were others in her family settling. I am always curious about why people select certain cities when they immigrate because in my ancestry research it was because one family member seemed to find it best and liked it. Soon after the rest followed just like Hong. Many of my ancestors came from Europe and continued to move from the east cost of the United States until eventually setting across the midwest, especially St. Louis on my father’s side. Like Hong’s family, for us in the midwest seemed to be work and family there.
What I appreciated in my interaction with Hong is that she is an entrepreneur trying to make her way and didn’t seem to expect anyone to help her. She was a proud and thankful American even though her accent was incredibly thick. Since moving here in 1992 she took the intentional steps to becoming a citizen. I can imagine Hong this week celebrating Independence Day in a way more meaningful way than most of us eating hot dogs, shooting fireworks, and watching parades. She is living a great story.
I am about 3 or 4 generations removed from when some of my ancestors came to the United States. How quickly I forget how many of my own ancestors escaped to America in such a similar way as Hong. The next time I catch myself complaining about my country, I will think of Hong. Our country is far from perfect but there is a reason people are trying to climb over the fence for a good and honest life here.
Hong will always be my reminder of freedom.
This Independence Day, take a chance to listen to those who intentionally (especially as a refugee) came to the United States like Hong. You’ll be a better American because of it.
Happy Independence Day my fellow Americans!
P.S. Truth be told and don’t judge me. I got to know Hong while getting a pedicure with my wife. Okay maybe I deserve to be judged.