What Does It Mean To Be An Immigrant?

My college classmates have become my dearest friends.
My college classmates have become my dearest friends.

For a young girl, it meant forever being on the outside. Growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, I had always wanted to be like the other “traditionally American” kids around me. I wanted blonde hair and blue eyes. I resented how I looked and did everything I could to fit in, though no matter how hard I tried — and I tried mighty hard — I could never puncture the bubble of the popular kids. These are wounds that I only now uncover, adolescent pain so deep and traumatic that your mind wipes it away from memory.

Hiding in the bathroom because you didn’t have anyone cool to sit with at lunch. Getting kicked out of class for talking too much. Wearing short skirts from Abercrombie, because that’s what the other kids did. My, those middle school days were turbulent.

People used to make fun of me because of my race, a feature of who I am that I could never — and now would never — alter. Their barbs were so hurtful that I can no longer recall the exact words, just that they used to pull at the corners of their eyes, supposedly imitating my “Oriental” features. While their words elude me now, I remember keenly the residual pain. Still, sometimes the most pernicious forms of racism were the covert kind, the sort that comes in the form of icy-cold glances, the withholding of friendship, and exclusion.

It was not until high school that I finally accepted and perhaps even embraced who I was, though the acceptance was never complete and perhaps never will be, even to this day. Some of us transform hurt into a passion to be better, which is what I sought to do.

Being a young Chinese-American woman running for the U.S. Congress means that according to some I immediately have three strikes against me. But we heal by turning potential weaknesses into our greatest strengths.

Today sometimes when someone is kind to me and accepts the fact that I’m Chinese by birth but American by choice, I, with a heart filled with gratitude, thank them, because a part of me feels that they’re generous for not thinking that I’m taking someone else’s place in our beloved country.

During the hearing in a lawsuit that my opponent launched to remove me from the ballot, the judge, a Republican, said that he had never before been so moved by an election law case, noting that my family is an example of an immigrant success story, one that is especially resonant in an election season in which immigrants have often been vilified. My father is a job creator, creating many opportunities for other Americans. My parents have given me everything I have. Without my father, mother, and brother, there simply would be no dream. My family is my foundation and my heritage now a great source of pride.

I have much for which to be thankful, including the outpouring of support and love I received from thousands of Americans around the country, including from the Chinese-American community, many of whom, yearning for a voice, pinned their hopes and dreams upon our Congressional campaign. This is an honor of a lifetime and a responsibility I lovingly safeguard.

I don’t want us to be a hyphenated community anymore — I just want us to be American, through and through. My hope for our country’s future is that when we see someone of immigrant heritage, our first reaction is no longer that he or she is an other. My campaign for Congress is about showing our country that our hearts are just as red, white, and blue.