From The Asian Reporter, V28, #15 (August 6, 2018), pages 6 & 11.
American disability in a world of hurt, and joy
I am a refugee from Indonesia. And Iím American too ó a beneficiary of our
shared continentís abundance. Being this blend means a lot. For families like
ours, it means todayís long summer days are very different from July 2016, six
months before our otherwise kind and creative nation went into one of those
recurring mood swings. The ugly kind, our kidsí history books tell them all
about. Sure they do.
Today, roughly 1-in-5 Portlanders are foreign born. Beaverton is 1-in-4. And
these stats donít include indivisible parts of us ó our U.S.-born wives, our
bright children and grandchildren. And you know, this mix means so much too.
Healthy American schools, businesses, faith and civil-society associations,
require a vigorous rub of Native, settled, and New Americans. Sure we do. Surely
we always have.
Our elegant Indo ethnic community is part of this beautiful noise. In fact,
weíve contributed to that transnational love affair with America since 1944.
Since polite soldierboys named Red (Lakota) and Tex (Mejicano) and Guinea (Italiano)
and Detroit (Polsk) crushed Imperial Japanís brutal occupation army. Since Yanks
rebuilt our school, then made us swings and seesaws from construction leftovers.
Our first playground. Ever.
Seventy years later and 17,000 miles west, our elders still weep about the
Sunday morning these guys, also crying, left us. For home. Home, where moms and
girlfriends missed them so. These idealists, those elders still insist, are our
Two dark decades of civil warring shamed our nascent Indonesian nation before
we finally fled our home. When at last we arrived in Hoboken, N.J., "small,
sweaty, and brown" ó pirating a quote from Multnomah County commissioner-elect
Susheela Jayapal on her 1978 U.S. arrival ó customs cops only inspected our two
hastily stuffed steamer trunks. They didnít document our Costco shopping
cart-sized cache of social and spiritual wealth. Those very assets that secured
our health and happiness through three preceding centuries of Netherlands
Two sides of our American coin
When our train pulled into Salem, and we rested in a tidy house generously
filled by Westminster Presbyterian Church elders, Mamma carefully unpacked all
our humbling pain into our bottom dresser drawers. Into top drawers, she neatly
folded 800 millennia of uninterrupted love for kualarga (family) and
comunidad, our bond with our pretty planet and mysterious God. Together, we
are this hurt and this joy. This wealth, not transferable into 24-hour ATMs, is
what lab-jacketed social scientists call "cultural capital."
These sacred bonds are easily missed by U.S. port officials. Portland policy
leaders donít include their value to municipal budgets. But, when our wealth
stirs well with Oregon banks of staid institutionalized capital, this merger
accounts for our envied nationís uncontested place on our achey little earth.
For our shared future. For sure.
Hereís how it works: Our Salem-born kids are Old World-raised and
U.S.-educated. Their polite daughters are brave and beautiful. Traditionalism
fused with American hipness makes us as fluent in River Cityís mainstream as we
are in our vigorous ethnic streams. We arc over oceans east and west,
confidently solving problems. We jumbo jet to continents that took weeks to
cross when I was our eager granddaughter Jettayaís age. Back when only shaman
Auntie Kris, peepers squeezed tight, could communicate over time and space.
Today, any tolol with two thumbs, an iPhone, and okay credit can FaceTime
Today tambien, Portlandís 70 ethnic-stream elders worry late nights
about our more settled neighbors who donít live inside family histories of
bottomless sorrow, of blessed joy. About how these Americans donít reminisce
about fragrant rains or gossipy Eucalyptus who eased us into sleep, back home.
How they donít long for patient aunties translating all that living into
This is also meaningful. Since only two percent of Oregonians are indigenous
people, the rest of us had to get the hell out of town, not so long ago. Without
Expedia. Maybe these neighbors donít recall leaving everything behind because
your arms are already full of frightened kids. Maybe thereís no living family
history of roadside robbers beating you for your wedding ring or stomping
grandpa for his gold tooth. Or of pirates taking your daughterís precious
childhood, knife at your throat.
A better, a bigger, us
Maybe Oregonians not close to this terror, are different from we who are.
Maybe our neighbors donít relive all this, every evening those humiliated dadsí
eyes or their wounded daughtersí vacant stares are broadcast into our family
rooms. Straight from Americaís border. Maybe unlike me, many Portlanders donít
weep shamelessly, donít stumble for days after ó no matter how many oceans or
decades, university degrees or regular paychecks, separate my debilitating
memories from our shared present. Maybe we all better get this together, today.
Surely our unaffected neighbors are more disabled than me. Certainly this
inability to feel our communal American sorrow, our blessed little planetís
human ache, accounts for our nationís odd divorce from a world of hurt. From our
world of joy too.
So sure, early tomorrow Iíll shove aside nightmares. Iíll rocket out of bed,
ready to love, full of life. Because my disability is partial, temporary. Iíll
brush my hair and teeth. Tomorrow early, my bursting heart will believe that
when our grandkidsí open their 2038 U.S. history college texts, todayís madness
will have been just another moody moment our America swung through. Sure we
Nota on inspired Americans:
My writing and lawyering are inspired by the decade-after-decade dutifulness
of Native American elders uncle John Brave Hawk, uncle Edmo, don David Barrios;
coach Morrie and daughter Jeri Jimenez; African-American anchors senator Avel
Goodly, Ibu Kathleen Saadat, Mdm. Jo Ann Hardesty, pastor Matt Hennessee;
Nikkei-American living treasures auntie Arlene Kimura, uncle Sho Dozono, and
Mdm. June Arima Schumann; Cambodian survivors and American successes Mdm.
Sivheng Ung and Royal Rosarian Kilong Ung, sisters Chhunny Sok and Mardine Mao;
the historian of Filipino Oregon, manong Simeon Mamaril, and the engineer of
everything Pilipino Portland, manong Jaime J. Lim; Persian peacemakers Dr. Ali
Khajavi and my brother Goudarz Eghtedari; Hmong-American community builders
grandpa Soua Lee Cha and Mr. Lee Po Cha; Muslim-American unifiers and healers
professor Nohad Toulan, uncle Sal Kadri, Mdm. Leila Cully, suami Wajdi Said;
Latino elders dona Maria Rubio, dona Marta Guembes, dona Irma Linda Castillo,
don Alberto Moreno; Viet Kieu community architects father James Ninh, the Ven.
Thich Minh Thien, Col. Nguyen Quoc Hung, Mdm. The Thuy Thi Tran, Thach Van
Nguyen (Mr. T); tireless Somali peacemakers Jamal Dar and Musse Olol; Mother
Africa Mdm. Therese Lugano and the Lion of Portland Djimet Dogo; Pacific
islander big uncles Kolini Fusituía and Rev. Joe Enlet; Russian wonderwomen Mdm.
Galina V. Nekrasova, Mdm. Natalya Sobolevskaya, Mdm. Victoria Cross;
Lao-American grandpas Hongsa Chanthavong, Ah Siu Bounketh, Dr. Bruce Thaopao
Bliatout, cowboy Vanhlang Khamsouk; teacher of three generations of educated and
empowered Americans Mdm. Anne Downing.
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