Column: The ICEmen cometh and many Americans are afraid to answer the door

Published on Monday, July 15, 2019

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I would like to say I feel totally secure in my Americanism, but that would be a lie.Steve Wong

I would like to say I feel totally secure in my Americanism, but that would be a lie.
Steve Wong

By Steve Wong

As the son of a probable illegal immigrant, I am a little afraid for myself but very afraid for the thousands of men, women, and children who have sought refuge and a better life in the United State of America.

In the coming days, President Donald Trump has ordered military police to round up some 2,000 illegal immigrants and, I can only assume, send them back to the countries from where they came. Until recent times in our American history, I would have assumed those countries would be terrible places, so much worse than my own country, but now I’m not so sure.

From the news coverage, I can only imagine the fear illegal immigrants have right now. Knowing if they answer a knock on their door, there might be armed men to forcefully take them into custody, away from their families, and put into a bureaucratic system with the purpose of sending them back to a situation from which they are trying to escape.

They must feel unwanted on an international level. What a terrible feeling that must be.

In recent months, President Trump has sought to stop the flow of immigrants into our country by building walls both literally and figuratively. In reflective moments I have wondered what would have happened if my father had been targeted by the federal government for deportation.

I don’t really know under what circumstances my father came to America from mainland China, but I highly suspect it was not through official channels. He’s dead now, so I don’t feel too bad about sharing what little bit of his life that I know. I would like to think he would be proud that his son has the freedom and willingness to express his feelings and thoughts about this nation and on a subject so close to his own life.

I live my life as an open book. I was born in Charlotte, in 1959, and was reared in the Carolinas. Even though I might not look it, I am about as American as you can get. And, Southern, too.

My father always looked like he just got off the boat. He spent most of his life in some back kitchen making Kung Pao Chicken or my personal favorite Combo No. 2 with fried rice.

Truthfully, I don’t know very much about how he came to live in Charlotte, and meet my mother, a Pineville, N.C., country girl. My parents divorced soon after my birth, and I was reared by my mother, a woman as southern as buttermilk and crumbled cornbread with green onions in a tea glass. My ability to use chopsticks is the pinnacle of my Asian way of life.

How my father came to this country was never really talked about. I know he had to leave China before 1959 and came to the U.S. via Australia and California, where he married for the first time and had two sons, only one of which have I ever met.

My mother told me he came from Canton, South China, which I Googled and found. According to Wikipedia, it is referred to as “the capital of the Third World.” It won’t be added to my bucket list of places to visit. He spent the last years of his life in Florida, and as an adult I met him a few awkward times. After a lifetime of heavy smoking, he died of lung cancer.

My father’s life was far from perfect. His English was always terrible. And his views and opinions, I found very conservative. But for the most part, he stayed out of the limelight and under the radar. He seemed to have few friends or passions. He lived in the U.S. for about 50 years, working in either a laundry or a restaurant, the most clichéd jobs a Chinese American can ever have. An invisible man to most.

Did he ever worry about being deported? I don’t know. I remember he tried to stay abreast of national and international news. I feel that if he had been properly granted citizenship, I would know about it. Instead, his past remained a mystery. He was just that short and skinny Chinese guy who smoked a lot and worked late nights at a restaurant.

He may not have lived a glamorous or wealthy life. It may have even been a shadowy life. But he did contribute to this nation. He worked and earned his keep and had a family. He had me. At the very least he has two adult grandchildren, both of whom graduated college and have gone on in pursuit of their American dream.

My son in Portland, Ore., is a computer programmer for a company that makes software for government use. My daughter in Brooklyn, NY, now teaches English as a second language to immigrants, after having been in Cambodia for two years as a Peace Corp volunteer. My wife and I are very proud of our children and what they have accomplished. But it would not have been possible without Edward W. Wong, my late father, coming to America. In those moments of parental pride, I take a little extra pleasure in knowing they both proudly bear the name “Wong”.

I seriously doubt that either one of them sense any fear of being considered unwelcome in this country. Biologically and culturally, the Chinese bloodline is wearing thin. I, too, married a southern white girl, and our children look about as Asian as a Ralph Lauren designer shirt with a little hidden tag that reads “Made in China”.

But like many of us, our foreign-born forefathers may be only one or two generations back, making us more sensitive to the news that immigrants are being rounded up to be deported.

But by what definition are you illegal? And, just how far back down your family tree would you find an immigrant who came to this country through less than official channels? It is not a stretch of the truth to say most of us have illegal immigrants at the root of our American heritage.

I would like to say I feel totally secure in my Americanism, but that would be a lie. I find myself looking over my shoulder more and more, obsessively reading the latest news about immigration, and just wondering how bad it might get. Internment camps?

According to 23andMe, I am 48 percent south Asian and 52 percent Scott Irish, and I look every bit the older Asian guy: round face, black hair gone gray, glasses, and 5-foot-6. Have I ever suffered from racial prejudice? This is America: What do you think?

• Steve Wong is a freelance writer in the Carolina Foothills in northern Spartanburg County. He can be reached at [email protected]




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