Lives as Valuable

I grew up in Highland Park, in Northeast Los Angeles, in a community of poor and working class Asian and Latino immigrants. My parents were refugees from Vietnam after the war, and they found a community of friends and family in the U.S.-- I never got the sense that I, or my parents, felt that I didn't belong.

Both my brothers have Mexican and Salvadorian godparents, which means, if anything were to happen to my parents, my Vietnamese American brothers would be raised in Mexican and Salvadorian households. This is how I grew up, in a neighborhood where the majority of the people were poor, and of color, and helped one another out. It was a place of great generosity. We belonged to one another. If there were a place we didn't belong, it was among white Americans. 

I went to college in Portland, OR. White Americans were the VAST majority--well over 90% of the population. For the first time, I stood out because of my race. People looked to my white American friends to translate for me. I was gawked at, daily, as I walked across campus. In the school newspaper, a student questioned the credentials of the only black English professor on campus, wondering if the professor got in because of his race. 

I was never struck, or treated with physical violence, but I was made to feel that I was Other. I and others like me (immigrant, poor, person of color) did not belong. That was a time of great awakening. I was introduced to a different America than one I'd known, one that strips humanity from a large subsection of its citizenry. 

This was the America that shelled, dropped bombs, and shot into my parents' villages in Vietnam. These acts can only happen when a government believes that Other lives are not as valuable as (white) American lives.