Friday, February 27, 2009

The Family That We Keep

We don’t get choose what family we are born into, we start our lives according to an enigmatic predestination that many attribute to God. This harsh reality for many is one that often makes winners and losers in the socioeconomic ladder before we even realize the glass ceiling above or below us.

The few that transcend the dichotomy that is birthplace or birthright are the ones that refuse to allow fate to determine their destiny. They are the individuals who have become dissatisfied with the status quo and unimpressed with the hands that they are dealt.

My best friend is one such person whose struggles were predetermined. I admired him ever since he told me his story about growing up on his own as a young teenager. Throughout the turmoil and obstacles, he overcame his situation and went on to graduate college and now is a successful businessman with a beautiful house, wife and newborn baby.

The first time I saw a picture of his son, my heart melted. It was a feeling that I couldn’t express with words as I kept going back to look at his picture again and again. I fell in love with him immediately as if he were family. Sure, I know legally “uncle,” is not a title that is recognized under the law and nor would anyone confuse us as relatives. Still, in my heart I have as much love for my best friend’s son as I have for my own nieces and nephews. The peculiar thing about it all is that I haven’t even met him yet.

I didn’t choose what family was going to adopt me. Like most things, I just lucked out as I look back at what I consider the biggest "break" of my life. To me, family cannot be defined by blood lines, legal documents or physical resemblance. It is based on the quality of relationships and the loyalty to those around us.

As a young adult, I have chosen those family members that I wish to be surrounded by and whom I reciprocate my love for. Not surprisingly, not all of them are in my family tree. Family is not a term that I use loosely. Considering someone a family member means that I embrace them and that they have embraced me back. Even though it appears harsh to disown a relative, I cannot in good conscience accept everyone with my last name as family. To do so is ingenious and an undermining of my definition of what family truly is.

My best friend is my brother. I don’t need to see it in writing to believe this truth. He has been there for the ups the downs and everything in between. His son begins the first chapter in his life on good footing because of the sacrifices of his father and it is because of the relationship that I have with his father, that I consider him family as well. One day I hope to tell him a little about his father’s past and the admiration that I have for him, so that he can be as thankful for having a father as I am for having a brother. All together family is about those who have your back when everyone else has turned theirs. It’s about loyalty, love and mutual respect. I can’t say for certain if my own family will expand, all I know is that the family that I have now is the family that I keep.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Black History

I don’t know the exact time that I first saw the image of two black men with clenched fists upon a podium, but I absolutely remember the way it made me feel. Without knowing the circumstances, I knew precisely what their protest was about and why they used that platform as a mechanism to make their statement.

It wasn’t until later that I did some research and learned more about the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Few photographs are as meaningful and powerful as that of those two men at that moment. Few photographs evoke the emotions of discontent and freedom of expression and those that do are not nearly as memorable. The display was both justified and uncomfortable as they tip toed the line of what it means to be patriotic. And despite all of the controversy that followed to include protests and the stripping of their medals that single act taught me more of what it means to be American than anything else that I can recall.

February marks the seldom celebrated, black history month. Although Americans recognize it as such, I would argue few really know why we can continually learn from the African-American experience. Today in schools, students are taught the civil rights movement capped off with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech,” as if that marked the end of the struggle. A minority of us truly know what being oppressed means and why the struggle for acceptance is a fight that continues.

I am a believer in “the dream,” not because I am American and not because I am Asian but because I am both. I believe we can live in a country that is tolerant enough to accept our distinct backgrounds and the unique history that we share. No notion embodies more of the core American principles of freedom and the desires of our ancestors than the vision that Dr. King embraced. The fact that it is called “black history month,” does not diminish the overarching theme that I believe it represents. Just because we celebrate the contributions of black Americans does not mean that I don’t have stake in it. Ask me how many times that I have been unfairly judged scrutinized or called names simply because of what I look like and then tell me if you think I can relate.

What is most exceptional about this month is not that it is the shortest of the year and ironically features President’s Day (the celebration of our founding fathers), but that it honors a specific group of individuals who have risen from slavery to the oval office of the White House. Along with these people, I would argue that Hispanics, Asians, women and other minorities be considered as well.

This month honors those historical figures that have persevered and sacrificed in order to keep a heritage intact, and yet it also should celebrate those among us who take the fight forward and advance the cause of equality. Those people are not just people like our President but reach farther. In order for us to expand this month and give it more meaning and more resemblance of the truly diverse heritage that we hold as Americans, we ought to embrace a wider range of people. For every Jackie Robinson there is a Roberto Clemente for every Rosa Parks there is a Sally Ride and for every Barack Obama there is a Daniel Inouye.

It is this last man that I believe best summarizes the point that I wish to make. Read Daniel Inouye’s biography and perhaps you too will see parallels and the black history that is within all of us: