Nearly a week after the deadly massacre in San Bernardino that claimed the lives of 14 people attending a holiday party, I am struggling to make sense of how quickly we want to assign blame to anyone we deem ‘questionable.’
Now Donald Trump wants to forbid every Muslim from entering the United States. On the surface his statement is laughable, except it is much more insidious than that, feeding fears that go way beyond the truth.
I am a naturalized US citizen born to an Armenian father and a Danish mother, both educated in the United States, who met each other serving as missionaries in India. We would move from India to Beirut until the 6-day war forced us to leave Beirut in 1967. After a year in Denmark, we came to the U.S. where my parents gained American citizenship for us all in 1974.
Growing up in the United States I struggled to fit in and find my identity. As a blend of Armenian and Danish parents I looked like everyone else but I was ashamed because I knew I was different. I fought to hide my background from my friends because so much of what my family did was different: from our food to our faith to my parents’ accents to how we viewed the world. I was afraid to have people over to our home for fear they would discover I wasn’t like them at all.
My father taught history at Beyer High School in Modesto, California and during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, he was taunted for ‘appearing’ Iranian. While the diplomatic crisis between the US and Iran was heated in the 70’s, America did not close its borders.
In 1996, after two weeks of live reports for KCBS Radio covering the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, I brought a young Muslim/Serb woman to the United States on an F-1 Student Visa. She completed her high school education in San Francisco and graduated with a degree in Ethnomusicology from UCLA. She is now in Sarajevo and works for the European Union.
Our family did not come to the U.S. as refugees. My mother explains we were at a crossroads and decided that this would be the best place for us all to thrive. “We came here because this country welcomed foreigners,” she said as she digested today’s news, “and this notion that we would slam the door on any ethnicity is crazy.”
After many years as a broadcast reporter and anchor I write and speak about why every story matters and how telling yours changes everything. I believe we are at a moment when understanding and connecting with each other, whether a naturalized or a natural-born citizen, is critical.
I am proud to be an American citizen with a U.S. Passport and a mixed up heritage. I know my roots, which extend to several continents around the world, and they are part of why this United States we live in is such a place of rich culture and diversity.
The number of deadly shootings on American soil and around the world certainly has my attention. Yes, I am more alert and aware of my surroundings than ever.
There is a defined process to enter, obtain a visa and gain citizenship in the U.S. While we may look more closely at the process let us not go down a road driven by fears that shame others and offer no guarantee of security.