Today, my dad turns 90. Our family marked this milestone by getting together in Ithaca, his first home in the United States of America. My father came to this country from China by design, but stayed by happenstance. He won a scholarship to study here, and planned to return as soon as he earned his masters degree in civil engineering, which he did in 1946. By then he had seen his homeland tear itself apart in the civil war between the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Party of Mao Zedong. As we know, Mao won, taking power in 1949. Many idealistic Chinese returned to build New China, as the Communists called it, but my dad wanted to stay in his adopted land. An open America let him.
And he made a new life in the United States. He learned English by reading the Wall Street Journal, became a citizen in the early 1960s, and raised four children. He started a business—a Chinese takeout—that grew into an eatery, which became a big restaurant. He bought a building, renovated it, and sparked the rejuvenation of the main street of his town in suburban New Jersey. He never misses an opportunity to vote (or to tell me how great his adopted country is).
At the end of June the Senate blocked President Bush’s immigration bill, largely due to public opposition to its amnesty provisions. Like millions of other Americans, I am deeply uneasy about these provisions, which would inevitably encourage more illegal immigration and unfairly treat aliens seeking residence through legal channels. But it is of crucial importance that we not let legislative gridlock kill the discussion and impede our movement towards a sensible immigration policy. In the long run, there may be no other issue more important to this country.
When I hear the fierce debate on immigration I think of my dad. At 90, he’s not able to travel back to his birthplace, a farming hamlet across the river from Shanghai. I’m sure he returns there in his dreams, but he’s an American now. This is where he calls home.