From The Ivory Tower Kitchen: We Are Khan

Anyone who thinks that immigrants have it easy should think again.

Thirty-three years ago, I tried to be accepted into the Air Force wing of the National Defense Academy, a pre-cursor to being an officer in the Indian military. Ultimately, it was determined that I lacked “sufficient leadership skills.” While my story may not be identical to another immigrant’s, rest assured that it is hardly atypical. By many measures, my upbringing was privileged, not in material, but rather in the wealth of a strong family structure headed by parents who sacrificed with every fiber in their beings. 

As immigrants, our accents, more than any other characteristic, are a reminder that we’ve traveled here from another place. Our competency in the language of our newly adopted homeland varies as much as our individual stories. The success of our assimilation depends a lot on our comprehension and acceptance of local norms. Most first generation immigrants arrive at varying stages of their lives with sincere hopes of being productive members of a world filled with the promise of opportunity and acceptance.

We don’t take our opportunities for granted, yet we don’t appreciate stereotypes any more than false accusations.

We don’t take our opportunities for granted, yet we don’t appreciate stereotypes any more than false accusations. Some of us are citizens, others legal residents, some are temporary, while others are illegal or undocumented. The vast majority of us are grateful for the opportunities and many of us produce at prolific levels. Some successfully serve their families, communities, and even adopted country; living another day to share the joy of their successes with family and friends in another land, while others succumb to the risks of living in an increasingly uncivilized and violent world.

Our occupations run the gamut of possibilities and if it was permitted, we would even run for the highest political office in the land. Our opinions are as controversial as they are considered mainstream. We learn to love new foods, but equally importantly, we bring new foods with us. Some of us prefer to socialize with our own kind while others deliberately seek out potentially uncomfortable and unfamiliar interactions.

Our journeys have prepared us for much of what our new home has to offer. Anyone who thinks that we have it easy should think again. Being an immigrant in another country is not for the meek. 

Smith may remain the most common last name ... [but] Garcia, Lee or even Khan may very well be an American who ultimately saves the world from its downfall.

We persevere because anything less would be considered a failure. We fear failure as much as we celebrate our accomplishments. We grieve amidst national and international tragedies as powerfully as we cheer for the underdogs. We are often citizens of the world and although the world is our oyster, we chose our new homes with the hope that we would be accepted as a member of our new families. Our sacrifices are no different from that of others before us, but sometimes, they pale in comparison with the sacrifices of our families who bid us good bye.

Just because we may disagree with conventional thinking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we wish to alter the laws of our adopted land. If we can be trusted with feeding, teaching and healing, then we should be trusted without baseless pre-judgement.  

The political, cultural and economic landscape of the United States is changing. And while Smith may remain the most common last name for the foreseeable future, Garcia, Lee or even Khan may very well be an American who ultimately saves the world from its downfall.

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