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  • Maegan Prentice

An Immigrant's Love for America - Dr. Le trung Chinh

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

1967 was the year I first landed in America, a lucky winner of a scholarship from the USAID Leadership Program launched to train young Vietnamese students for future “nation building.” Little did I know then that the Communists would take over Vietnam a few years later, and that I would spend my professional career serving Americans rather that my own people. Reality number one; Very few humans have control of their own destiny, and refugees have even less. Swept under by historical tsunamis, we land on shores we never dreamed of, and pick up our lives again. I was very lucky and forever grateful for that chance. America has been a wonderful home for me. Yet Vietnam and the people I left behind will always be in my heart.

President Trump, don’t you worry! What is there not to love about America After all, one only has to believe in the following words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” All American school children and all immigrants live on the promises of these beautifully written words learned in their first civics class. They’re idealistic words, as they should be in a Declaration of Independence, and would come to a sound bit utopian over the course of history. Sadly, we now know that these truths are not so self-evident, that some men are created more equal than others, and that too often, when we claim our own unalienable rights, we are likely stepping on someone else’s rights. Some lives seem to matter more than others. The four Liberties declared by FDR in 1941 – Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear – and so beautifully painted by Norman Rockwell remain elusive for many in the daily struggle for survival. That is reality #2.

And the pursuit of happiness? As my hair turned grey over the years, I realized that to pursue happiness means never to find it. By definition, when we are after something, we don’t have it. I will always be in front of us, running one step ahead of us. So I returned to the Buddhist roots of my childhood. I have to cultivate happiness within myself. I will not find it by chasing it or by building golden towers, and certainly not by walking a path lined with the latest consumer goods or blessed by the Prosperity Gospel. But I hope this does not make me less American, Mr. President.

Tears roll down my cheeks when I sing the lyrical words by another immigrant, Irving Berlin. “God bless America, land that I love.” But it is the sentence that follows that resonates even more in these challenging times. “Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above.”

There are many ways to love America. Perhaps the deepest way is with the dreams and the heart of an immigrant or a refugee who knows that, unfortunately, not all lives are equally endowed with unalienable rights. Ambivalent as we may be about the harsh realities of the world we live in, what we love about America is that dreams are still worth living for.

Le trung Chinh’s interview in 2017 occurred just shortly after President Trump emphasized that immigrants to the United States will have to undergo “severe vetting”, President Trump added that “we will only accept immigrants who love us”.

Chinh is a retired physician currently living in Corvallis. More of his writings and copies of his artwork can be found on his website including two self-published books “Bamboos and Fuchsias” and “Stories Along My Silk Road".

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