Let’s face it. The United States has had a rough go at it in recent weeks.
The eyes of the world have been on our southern border as there has been seemingly endless coverage of young immigrant children who have been separated from their parents and detained in camps.
To put it simply, things have not been easy.
But this week, we celebrate our nation’s birthday.
Now, the 4th of July means different things for different people. For some, it’s a time to get together for a barbecue with family and friends (weather permitting, of course, since this is the Pacific Northwest). For others, it’s all about the fireworks. And for others still, it’s just a day off of work (or not).
But let’s not forget that the July 4 is Independence Day, a day that celebrates (among other things) the freedoms we have in this country.
And it is those very freedoms that drive people from other parts of the world to sacrifice and risk so much to come to the United States.
My family is among them.
My parents came to this country as refugees from Cambodia. My father arrived in 1975 after escaping the Khmer Rouge, while my mother spent years in the regime’s labor camps. During this time, neither knew what had happened to the other and it took six years for them to be reunited here in the Puget Sound.
Coming to the United States may have been a choice forced upon them based on circumstances beyond their control but this is where they ended up and here I am. My parents coming to this country afforded me and my sister opportunities we likely would not have had if they had stayed in Cambodia.
But while this country may be dubbed the Land of Opportunity and the Land of the Free, those opportunities and freedoms are not equal.
Police brutality against black people still occurs throughout the country and whether it’s touring a college campus, waiting for a friend in a Starbucks or barbecuing in a public park, people of color are having the police called on them for merely existing in these spaces.
And we in the upper left — and here on the Eastside — are not immune to these types of incidents.
In January 2016, a black-owned consignment store in Redmond received items similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. Later that year in November, a mosque in Redmond had its sign vandalized twice in the span of about a month. And just a couple weeks ago, Neo-Nazi literature appeared in Bellevue, encouraging residents to report undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
And back in 2015, I personally witnessed a man “ching-chong” another Asian woman while in line at an Eastside bookstore. The racism may not have been directed at me but it still caught me off guard and left me shocked and feeling dirty.
In these cases, the targeted are just seen as “other,” a potential enemy or threat or just someone who does not matter. They are not seen as people with their own stories or even lives.
Their humanity is not a point of consideration when someone calls the police on them, encourages others to report them to the authorities or mocks them for simply being different. Very little thought is put into the type of domino effect these actions may cause — whether that is separating a family, an arrest or someone not feeling safe.
This is how this kind of behavior becomes acceptable. The people who are different from what’s considered “mainstream” are often seen as less than, and so it is OK to treat them as such.
This is not who we are as a country and this is not who we are as a community. We cannot let this become the norm.
Fortunately, I have seen members of the Eastside community respond to these incidents to let people know that they do not accept this behavior. They have supported the targeted through gifts and donations as well as just being there for them.
And while it is heartening and amazing to see the outpouring of support following such incidents, these incidents shouldn’t be happening in the first place. No one should need to have something bad happen to them to feel safe and welcome in their community.
We need to get to a point where this behavior and treatment of others becomes so unacceptable — no matter their background, orientation, status or whatever — that we won’t need these outpourings of love and support. People will just know they are safe.