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Kesha Ram: American Identity And Immigration

VPR commentator Kesha Ram, seen here at VPR's Colchester studios in 2016.
Meg Malone
VPR commentator Kesha Ram, seen here at VPR's Colchester studios in 2016.

I recently spoke with a young woman who fled from Syria with her parents. She's struggling with her identity in a family that straddles two countries that can often feel worlds apart. And the escalating political rhetoric hasn't helped; her father's been called a "terrorist" more than once as he tries to earn money for his family.

I told her that many of us with immigrant parents struggle with feelings of embarrassment or shame, especially with so much national attention on the issue. But, at the same time, there's always been something so pure in the expression of the love of an immigrant parent or family member. They've literally crossed oceans, mountains, and deserts for their children. Whether they're in the world yet or not, many immigrants have harbored hope and fought to survive for the safety, promise, and potential of the next generation.

That love transferred to the children of immigrants is often co-mingled with a deep love of this country. I grew up in an Irish pub that belonged to my Indian immigrant father and my Jewish American mother, and my parents relished the opportunity to bring a meal to a needy person or even feed my whole class at school. My parents always found ways to give back to a community and country that had given them so much, and they instilled in me a duty to do the same.

That love of country and the hope for a better life for our children is part of our national glue, and it binds us all together. It's stronger than any policy or president, any ban or wall. It's a powerful force for creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. Perhaps that's why immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses as native-born Americans, and forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.

So, for the majority of us who aren't Abenaki or descended from a First Nation tribe, someone in our recent or distant past crossed oceans, mountains, and deserts to try and give us a freer, more prosperous life. It's up to us to take our gratitude for them and pay it forward. After all, there are still many who are daring to cross oceans, mountains, and deserts for the next generation to have a better life and for our country to have a stronger future.

Kesha Ram is a former state legislator and the interim director of the Center for Whole Communities in Burlington. She will study in the Master of Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government this fall.
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