After the flood, rebuilding

There is the moment and moments, or the days and weeks of fire or water or manmade disaster. In that time, in my experience, many people behave admirably and humanity shines. Everyday people become outstanding heroes. They bear the loss of electricity and water remarkably well. It’s the aftermath, the time long after the flood lights and news cameras leave. (In Ferguson, on Canfield Lane, one of Mike Brown’s neighbors told me that she had a hard time sleeping because the press was always there.) It is the future time that reasonable people look forward to and are full of hope that they can expect to be normal and whole again, except that the situation is still different, and there are still holes. The walls of your home are still moldy, and you can’t just patch them up but you still have to live there.

Many people are fortunate to not know how long it takes to rebuild after a storm.

In the moment of Sandy, first responders and medical providers carried babies and patients down 20 flights of stairs. They didn’t and couldn’t carry all the laboratory mice who were being used in potentially life-saving cancer research. They couldn’t take the specimens that scientists had been working on for years. We talk about the lives that were lost, the homes and property that was damaged, but no one thinks about the lives that could have been saved from the decades and hundreds of millions of dollars of research. Many of those primary investigators left.

It was the months and year afterwards, where they couldn’t even see patients, and had to rotate at other hospitals. So the patients flowed, conceivably, or maybe just didn’t show up and prolonged what might have been treatable diseases had they caught them earlier. Stacking the health care safety net system is like stacking the initial rows of cannonballs or molecules. How you place them, what shape, what geometry determines the final shape of the pyramid. That’s how it goes with patient flow.

The photo above is where my husband graduated from residency at NYU Bellevue. The high water mark is 11 feet, taller than any of the graduates or speakers. 5 months later, Hurricane Sandy hit and I was on a campaign in another state. Someone asked me if I was worried for my husband and I said, “He’ll be okay, Bellevue is a fortress and it has backup generators.” And it is and it was. But the backup generators were underground, and they flooded. For a while afterwards, I was slightly obsessed with FEMA.

For all the Congressmembers and Senators who voted no or equivocated and dithered on Hurricane Sandy funding and claimed that the money in the relief package was “pork,” the money was for rebuilding. So that the tri-state area has coastlines with natural defenses against the rising waters due to climate change. As opposed to building houses for low income families or rich people right along the ooast.

Rebuilding and recovering resilience takes a very long time. We should let people go on with their lives, but instead, people who have been lucky to escape with their lives, but who have lost their homes and memories are forced to tabulate everything that they have lost for insurance adjusters. My friend who lost her home in a fire told me, “It felt like reliving the trauma.”

All this is to say, people will be hurting for months if not years after. Their lives will be altered. Limited English proficient folks sometimes get overlooked because they don’t understand how to apply for grants or loans. OCA Houston and AAPI nonprofits have set up an AAPI Harvey Relief Fund. Please give.

SCOTUS case an effort to de-naturalize citizens

The current US Supreme Court case against Divna Masenjak, a Bosnian Serb who fled civil war and naturalized as a US citizen, centers around efforts by the Trump administration to claw back citizenship from US citizens. She was admitted as a refugee in the 90s, gained citizenship in 2007, and then had it revoked and was deported 7 years later after admitting to having lied about her husband’s participation in the Bosnian Serb military.

Although not commendable, her actions were understandable, and SCOTUS justices seemed even more perturbed at the government’s line of reasoning that even minor offenses and white lies could be actionable. with Justice Sotomayor asking if withholding information about childhood nicknames would count.

According to SCOTUSblog:

Kennedy was also clearly uneasy about the government’s interpretation. Your argument, he admonished Parker, is “demeaning” to the “priceless value of citizenship.” Kennedy added, “you are arguing for the government of the United States, talking about what citizenship is and ought to mean.”

Landau tried to capitalize on this unease in his rebuttal, telling the justices that “the questioning today makes it chillingly clear that the government’s position in this case would subject all naturalized Americans to potential denaturalization at the hands of an aggressive prosecutor.” And that, Landau concluded, “is not what Congress intended” and “not what is in the language of the statute.”

The Trump administration attorney Robert Packer argued that even minor offenses, including speeding 5mph over the limit (an example that Chief Justice Roberts cited) would be punishable by withholding or taking away citizenship. Considering that this administration has already deported undocumented citizens over past minor offenses, it is not that big a leap to conclude that they would try to do the same to naturalized citizens.

This is another example of the Trump administration trying to move the Overton window, to make the surreal normal. Fortunately, the administration’s absurdity seems to be leaving the justices incredulous. The Trump administration’s actions on H1B and support of curbing legal immigration, as well as their participation in this case, leave little room to doubt that they would very much like to not simply curb immigration to this country, but to actually kick people out who have gone through the long and arduous process of naturalization. That’s what their policy proposals around clawing back public benefits like school lunches to immigrant children say. We cannot let this administration’s efforts against immigrants stand. Their trial balloons are full of poison. We have to educate ourselves, educate our communities, and organize by building power. That is how we resist.





Fmr President George W. Bush: “Not the America I know”

I never thought I would be quoting former President Bush, Jr. Like many of you, I am with Aziz Ansari in a weird position, wistfully watching old speeches by President George W. Bush, wishing that our current president could show that level of empathy and understanding to reach out to and speak at an Islamic center. To be president of all of us, not to divide us.

I’m in this weird position because in college and after, I was convinced that President George W. Bush was the worst US president ever. That the PATRIOT Act, special registration, and the Iraq War were disastrous measures. I still believe this. And then I watch this simple act of unity and community, and wish that we currently had a president this eloquent. Who understands “that America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens . . . who make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. And they must be treated with respect…That’s not the America I know, that’s not the America I value.” No, really. How our standards were lifted by President Obama, and how far they’ve fallen.

It turns out that the W administration had principles and certain bright lines they weren’t willing to cross. After 9/11, President Bush reassured his Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, that they wouldn’t repeat internment.

In the uncertain days after the 2001 attacks, when Arab-Americans feared hate crimes and government overreaction, President Bush turned toward Mineta at a Cabinet meeting.

“We know what happened to Norm Mineta in the 1940s, and we’re not going to let that happen again,” Bush vowed. (McClatchy DC)

Right now, it’s not clear that the Trump administration has any such scruples or limits.


Silence, memory, and endurance: a personal family history

China kleptocracy

Sometimes I look at the abyss we’re headed into and I shiver. We are going to have unqualified kleptocrats running this country, which has thus far survived because of a strange mix of democracy, special interests, and forward thinking by our nation’s leaders.

Then I remember what my family has been through on both sides, and I know that we have been through worse and survived. Over the past few months, I have been collecting the oral history of my 92 year old grandmother, who was born in 1916 (Chinese years start at 1 – East Asian counting of ages.) I regret that I started so late, for she is the only one whose memory of these years is intact.

Consider the chances: on both sides, my grandparents fled China for Taiwan, and then decades later, my parents migrated to America. This dual migration has led to many silences that ring through our family’s history and the loss of important historical documents. My paternal grandma, or Nai Nai, was the only one from her village who was able to leave China before the Cultural Revolution. My paternal grandfather, or Ye Ye, manned the flight controls on a plane for the Kuomingdang (Nationalist) Army, and was even sent to the United States to train for a period. Which I guess places him in this era of Taiwanese pilots who trained in America from 1937-1945, as my grandma cannot recall the exact years.

They had been placed into an arranged marriage at an early age, and knew each other growing up. Nonetheless, the fact that my grandpa still called for her to come and join him was a rare opportunity. When my grandmother arrived at the departure point, it was a month before her name was called to go on one of the few planes leaving for Taiwan. When I asked if she was scared, grandma laughed and said, “No, I always had a lot of courage. Even when my siblings didn’t want to go outside, I wanted to explore.”

For a young woman, Nai Nai was able to attain a certain level of education and even studied accounting. As a child, she and her sisters had managed to escape the traditional footbinding because they were set to start school, and had to walk there, so her mom opted not to begin. Over the years, Nai Nai kept in touch with her family in China – parents, brothers, and sisters – through letters. Through missives, she learned that her parents, and her brothers all died, mostly due to starvation. One younger sister, or mei mei, remained by the first time she was able to return to China in the 1980s. She had never expected the war and the distance to last for so long. While grandma was heartbroken she didn’t get to see her family altogether again, she is grateful for the life that she has lived, and for all the experiences she has enjoyed. My grandpa Ye Ye was one of three sons, one of whom was sickly and passed early. His eldest brother passed when he was in his 30s. So Ye Ye became the only one to go to Taiwan, and then America.

My father and mother were both born on the emerald isle of Formosa, also known as Taiwan. On my mom’s side, my Gong Gong and Poa Poa were set to give her up for adoption as she was the 4th child born into the family, it was wartime, and there wasn’t enough food. The elderly neighbors were looking forward to taking my mother into their family, but when she was born, my Grandma decided my mom was too cute, and our biological family kept her. In the time that they grew up, Taiwan was subject to the longest stretch of martial law that any nation has ever had.

She would meet my dad in elementary school, and then they would go on to date as young adults. After college, my dad’s professor needed help with research in the United States, and asked him to assist. Much like my grandfather did, my father came to the US and then called for my mother to join him. It was in the United States that they settled and raised one child.

Three generations, spanning three different countries. If it had been for any of these experiences being different, or chance intruding, my life wouldn’t be what it is. So I am grateful to the generations that come before – to their strength and resilience, and I seek to preserve these memories for the generations that come after. In recognition that they survived when so many didn’t, and of the nimble and enduring spirit that sustained them, I vow to remain resolute and strong. The things that I have seen and experienced are dwarfed by the alignment of luck that it took for generations on both sides to come across three countries to America.

Like most Asian American families, we came here after the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, and now there are three generations of us living in the United States. We are here by law and by policy, as teachers and doctors, as professionals and creatives, as people of faith and people on a journey, giving back to the country of our birth and adoption. To know history is to know yourself. We are here as free citizens, whose ancestors fought wars in search of freedom. No one can take that from us unless we let them.

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