an epitaph for justice

proving citizenship

I am an American.

I am an American by birthright.

I am an American by birthright through Taiwanese immigrants.

120 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Wong Kim Ark was a valid US Citizen through birthright, despite his parents not being American citizens. In fact, according to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese immigrants were excluded from naturalization. Wong Kim Ark was detained and denied re-entry upon returning to the US from China even though he had documentation of his citizenship.

My own encounters with going through Customs has often had this shadow of a thought: “what if they don’t believe me?” What makes me a citizen of this country? A birth certificate? A bunch of paperwork? Jurisprudence? Throughout my life, I have felt a consistent need to prove that I am a ‘true’ American. The feeling of humiliation and constant reminder of being an other in this country have occurred through “where are you from?” questions and being denied an internship opportunity due to relationships with family back in Taiwan and being scoffed at for not knowing my grandpa’s Anglicized name since I always call him 阿公.

In 1943, Chinese immigrants were finally allowed to naturalize; it wasn’t until almost a decade later that all Asian immigrants were given that opportunity. Now, white nationalists and my President are trying to erode and erase the foundation of my citizenship.

I was born an American citizen off of the long-suffering fight for justice. I know that many might view my family and I as some sort of special exceptions – “you all are good immigrants! Don’t worry, we got your back.” 

But the reality is that I am not your Asian exception.

I am a part of the rule of so many immigrant families who have sought new and often better opportunities in America. I don’t want you to have my back – I want you to have all of our backs. 

Our livelihoods are tied up with the rest of our brothers and sisters. Refugees migrating north to flee violence propped by our government, armed vigilantes and military deployments to stop them, bomb packages targeting the targets of Trump, eleven – eleven people killed in my city by a domestic terrorist in the frenzy of fear whipped up against immigrants… 

My brothers and sisters, now is the time to act. Now is the time to pray. Now is the time to vote. Now is the time to denounce fear. Now is the time for love. This is what it means to be American.