What Does It Mean to Be ‘Lucky to Be Here’?
Reckoning with anti-Asian hate in a country my grandparents believed in so desperately
“Lucky to be here.”
It’s a phrase I hear all the time about being an American — more specifically, being an American whose family came from someplace else. We live in a powerful, prosperous country full of opportunity and abundance, and there is no better place to be, which is why so many people risk their lives and leave behind their belongings to live here. At least, that’s the way the story goes.
But in the aftermath of the Atlanta shooting spree, I tell my therapist I have misgivings with this phrase. That I’m not sure how to balance feeling grateful and lucky with feeling hurt and angry. That it’s unsettling to think about what my family sacrificed to live in a country that I am now criticizing. But before I can think of the right words to explain all of this, she cuts me off. “I have news for you,” she says. “Discrimination is everywhere. It’s all around the world. Not just here.” She is also from a family who came here from somewhere else and tells me how lucky she feels to be here. Then, she asks me: “Do you feel lucky to be here?”
When my mother came to the States in the 1970s, she spent a lot of time flipping over that question in her own mind. Like any immigrant story, my family’s history of coming to the United States was complicated. It was nothing like the romanticized tale of the American dream, of immigrants being welcomed into the melting pot with open arms, a lifted lamp, and a golden door. At school, her classmates didn’t want to stand in line next to her. They giggled and stepped away like she was a bad smell. They called her names and told her to go back to China. One evening, my mother and her family were watching the news, seeing all the political turmoil of the 1970s unfold. “What’s so great about America?” my mother scoffed. My grandmother snapped back — after everything she had been through, she wanted her children to be grateful.
Still, my grandmother hung tightly onto her culture. Years later, when my mom married a white man, my grandmother yelled at her for weeks, remembering the racism she encountered in British Hong Kong. She was hesitant to assimilate and skeptical of white…