Her long black hair and strikingly luminous dark eyes were a contrast to her delicate Indian accent.
Standing before a hundred teens at the leadership camp, she introduced herself,
“Hello, my name is America.”
None of us would ever forget her name, or how her sweet accent slightly altered its pronunciation. She was a first-generation American citizen, and her parents had named her for the freedom and opportunity America offered.
I was in that crowd of teens—where we’d come to learn how to help our schools be places of learning, compassion, and purpose.
We were divided up, and America wasn’t in my group, but I observed her animated energy as she bounded between activities. I had one occasion to stand next to her—as we waited in the dinner line.
We talked about camp, our schools, and the anxious sense that being a high school junior brought. For America, I could tell it meant high expectations. Her parents owned a dry-cleaning store.
They’d immigrated with extended family, and pooling their money, they’d purchased one store and as they could, they expanded to three locations. Besides school, working in her parent’s store was America’s life.
Family expectations for her success were high—they had worked hard and so would she. America’s parents came here in the mid-1950’s, escaping India’s poverty and lingering caste system—which undermined the hopes of millions of Indians. America offered its freedom. Americans offered their support. That's who we are. And because we helped, a family thrived.
As the world copes with nearly 60 million refugees fleeing atrocities we’d never want to face, our leaders are balancing the scales with compassion on one side and security on the other.
Just because we go slow, doesn’t mean we are saying no. America remains the last best chance refugees have—and the compassion that defines this great nation will eventually tip the scales.