Often, I feel as if I cannot keep up. With all of the people. And the experiences of the Pfister. But within the day-to-day, there are always those moments that stay with you. And intersect with your life in unexpected ways.
I was recently asked to be interviewed for a radio series called “I am an American.” I spent an hour talking to the race and ethnicity reporter for Milwaukee’s NPR about what it means to me to be an American. That interview aired as a 4.17 minute story last week.
Even though hundreds, maybe thousands, of Milwaukee NPR listeners heard the story, I was nervous to share it with my own community of friends and family — because to answer that question is so complex, personal, and integral to who I am and how I walk through the world.
But after reflecting on the experience of being interviewed, listening to the episode that came out of the interview, and most importantly contemplating the question of what it means to me to be an American, I kept coming back to the day I was sworn in as a United States Citizen, my girlfriend’s son, Wyatt, who will graduate a Marine next week, my conversation with James, the Pfister’s head of security and himself a member of the military, and these two important truths:
The first — that there is no country like America. On the day that I was sworn in, the federal judge read the name of every country represented in the courtroom. There were immigrants from at least 20-25 countries. Each of us seeking the freedom and opportunity that comes with living in the United States and being its citizen. I was in awe.
The second— that it is only because of men like Wyatt and James, who choose to protect, defend and, if necessary, fight for us, that America exists as it does— a democracy, a place for dissent. And while I sometimes disagree with our government, it is not lost on me that I have that right. To disagree. To dissent. And to do so ‘out loud’ without fear of persecution. I know it is not perfect. But I know it is my right. And that it was James then and Wyatt now who protect this right.
Next week, I will have the honor of attending Wyatt’s graduation ceremony from the Marines at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego. Yesterday, I had the honor of talking to James about becoming an Airman. He was 4, maybe 5. His uncle had just returned from Vietnam where he had served in the army. They were walking through the airport, James on his shoulders, when his uncle pointed out a man in the airforce. James knew in that moment. On that day. That he would one day join the air force.
I wish we lived in a world where there was no oppression or war and therefore no need for borders or protection. But while I am wishing, hoping, and doing my small part to make that wish come true, I remain grateful for Wyatt and James and all of the men and women who served before them and after.
And I remember that they, like James, are a part of the fabric of our lives— protecting us, every day.
The “I am an American” episode and full transcript is available here: https://www.wuwm.com/post/being-american-allowed-me-go-back-india-be-indian-bela-suresh-roongta