May 20, 2018


John Kelly's Ancestors Wouldn't Have Fit In Either (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 5/19/18, NY Times)

His inability to see or feel the world as they do is shared by many Americans.

That includes some of my fellow Vietnamese-Americans, who, though they came to this country as refugees fleeing war, are saying that the United States should not take in any more refugees, especially those from places like Syria. Some, like the Vietnamese-American mayor of Westminster, Calif., home to the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam, even say the United States should not accept any undocumented immigrants, since they include "criminals."

We were the good refugees, the reasoning goes. These new ones are the bad refugees.

Having grown up in the Vietnamese refugee community in San Jose, Calif., in the 1970s and 1980s, I can testify that there were plenty of bad refugees among us. Welfare cheating. Insurance scams. Cash under the table. Gang violence, with home invasions being a Vietnamese specialty.

All that has been forgotten. Vietnamese-Americans are now part of the "model minority" who believe they earned their success, relying on little or no government assistance. They are not so different from Mr. Kelly, the descendant of Irish and Italian immigrants who included unskilled laborers speaking little English. Convenient amnesia about one's origins is an all-American trait, since we believe ourselves to be the country in which everyone gets a new beginning.

What some of us also forget is that at nearly every stage of our country's history, the people who were already established as American citizens found convenient targets to designate as unable to assimilate: the indigenous peoples; conquered Mexicans; slaves; or the newest immigrants, who were usually classified as nonwhite.

In 1751, even before the country was founded, Benjamin Franklin wrote that "perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind." He favored "the English" and "white people," and did not want Pennsylvania to become a "colony of aliens," who "will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion." He was speaking of the Germans.

German-Americans are now "white," which is partly a color, partly a state of mind and partly a matter of perception. The eventual whiteness of German-Americans saved them from being thrown en masse into internment camps during World War II, unlike Japanese-Americans. With historical lessons like that, it's no surprise that some Vietnamese-Americans desire to put their refugee past behind them, including the memory of how only 36 percent of Americans wanted to accept Vietnamese refugees in 1975.

The Right, like the Left, hates the America that actually exists.
Posted by at May 20, 2018 7:52 AM