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I was a junior in college when I first read the Toni Morrison quote that goes “In this country, American means white. Everyone else has to hyphenate.” I remember the sting I felt reading it in my African-American literature course. It seeped into my consciousness for the remainder of that day, of that week, of that year. I had signed up for the course to discover more black writers. The books we read and...
My father, Benjamin, was born in the midst of a rallying cry for independence: the Indonesian National Revolution had been going on for two years before his birth in 1947 on the island of Java. His family, of half-Indonesian, half-Dutch descent, fled to Holland when he was still a child, but their political fears weren’t to be assuaged in Europe either. His father—who had been interned at a work camp when the Japanese occupied...
My father, who had a degree in engineering in Bosnia, now works as a doorman. I remember going on a walk with him around Morris Park in the Bronx when I was 18 years old. He stopped and said to me, "I do a job that I do not love, in a country that does not understand me, but I do it all for you. I might not have a lot of money, but...
My mother still remembers two questions from her 1966 U.S. immigration paperwork (and there was a lot of paperwork): 1) Are you planning to overthrow the American government? 2) Are you planning to work as a prostitute? In case you’re wondering, she answered—honestly—no to both questions. So did my dad. My father first came to the United States in the 1950s to get his master’s degree at Harvard University. He was an Egyptian citizen back then, and went...