Sunday, June 27, 2010


We listened to five Asian immigrants tell a crowd “how we got here” at the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the National Mall.

A woman from New Delhi recounted how her husband, a computer engineer, arrived in the US in the 1970s with almost no money, no place to stay and in search of a job.

Two decades later, she claims, he became at age 30, the youngest CEO in Silicon Valley.

An elderly Chinese-American related how he arrived in 1946 aboard a freighter that wasn’t even sure where it would dock in search of cargo. His story started in Portland and was filled with heartaches but he eventually found his place in America.

“We stand out wherever we because of how we look,” said a Sikh-American speaker. With their distinctive headwear, they invite curiosity and in the extremes, taunting and insults.

But times have changed, he said, they are now well assimilated in Northern Virginia.

“Never give up your culture,” he stressed.

Lawyer Miriam Reidmiller confided that among the earliest books she got from her father, an executive of Getty Oil, was a book on American idioms. Growing up, she had a choice of whether to continue living in Manila or move to the United States.

“When I saw the GW Parkway and all the trees, I fell in love with this place,” she remembered.

The yearly Folklife Festival is one of DC’s top tourist draws.

The 10-day event is spread over two weekends and celebrates – through stories, food, music, arts and crafts, dance and rituals – America’s rich cultural diversity.

Asian Pacific Americans had their own section composed of several tents – devoted to storytelling, a “tea house” where various APA communities cook their native delicacies, and family activities that included learning how to play “Asian football” – sepak takraw.

The festival highlights the contributions of immigrants to American society.

But the tales we heard were stories of success. We have yet to hear from those whose “American Dream” failed.

On the other side the nation, a law in Arizona is being assailed because it could lead to racial profiling and discrimination.

Arizona says it’s to curb crime which they arbitrarily blamed on undocumented immigrants (even though official reports show the crime rate was actually in decline).

One needn’t go far to see where Arizona’s crackdown might lead -- Prince William County, Virginia has suffered falling property prices resulting from mass migration, business closures and lower school enrolment since it enacted ordinances that mirror Arizona’s SB 1070 three years ago.

Last week, we interviewed four Filipino hospital workers – three nurses and a Fil-Am human resources staffer – who were summarily fired by a Baltimore City hospital for speaking Tagalog.

They have filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Festivals like the one being held in DC help demolish the walls that divide America.

America may be a nation of immigrant but she is also “the land of the free, the home of the brave”. Everyone must work, persevere and struggle for his place here. As the DC festival may have inadvertently demonstrated, failures have no right to tell their stories here.

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