More than 40 years ago, my father’s family fled the Vietnam War and came to America. He left behind his younger brother and my grandparents (they would take a separate journey), and settled in a refugee camp in the Midwest. He tells me that he would eat fish from the backwater creeks behind the camps ― fish that Americans would never touch, and though he got sick he continued to eat because food was food. Eventually the family moved to California and reunited under one roof. In those days, my father, his brothers and his grandmother slept together on one mattress ― they had fitful dreams, I’m sure.
My father made his way to UCSD, and there, he met my mother who left Indonesia to attend college in America. A decade later they married. In the ’90s, on a winning combination of hard work and improbable good fortune, they rode the Silicon Valley wave to success. They bought a house, they bought a car, they became citizens, and were primed to pass on their victories to another generation. By all accounts, they fulfilled that great prophecy, the American Dream. I have to wonder if my parents, in today’s world, would have decided to come to America at all.
Every hour Americans receive increasingly deranged news about a pandemic which has brought this country to its knees. Yet I see proof from other countries that it is possible to provide everyone proper PPE, monthly additional income for the duration of Covid-19, and free and accessible health care, and flatten the curve. It feels like a blunt metaphor that most of America’s wounds from the pandemic are self-inflicted. While we’re seeing record-breaking death counts well into July, abroad, they’re opening up restaurants, bookstores and movie theatres. A dark movie theatre, a cold drink, the faint crunch of popcorn... such innocuous pleasures feel a world away.
Here, or so the dominant narrative goes, anyone can have it all. That’s the beautiful thing about this country. Most people would never dream...