America the Beautiful

Last night I attended the AABANY Annual Dinner, where three incredible Asian American lawyers were recognized with awards –

  • Jenny R. Yang, Chair, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;
  • An-Ping Hsieh, Vice President, General Counsel, Hubbell Incorporated; and
  • Preet Bharara, United States Attorney, Southern District of New York.

Each of these outstanding lawyers referenced their parents, all of whom were raised and inspired by immigrant parents. And from very humble roots, each of these individuals were able to achieve amazing things.

I was really impressed by Preet Bharara’s speech.  First, he was a lot funnier than expected, and it’s nice to see that someone who has to be so serious so often can have a chuckle.  Second, he very eloquently reminded us all why America is so great.  He talked about the naturalization of his Indian parents almost 3 decades ago.  Back then, these two immigrants from Punjab could never imagine their two young sons would become as successful as they are today – one, being the first Asian American US Attorney for the SDNY, the other, now a millionaire after selling his company to Amazon for half a billion dollars.  Of course a joke ensued of how one brother was obviously a lot more jealous of the other.

He spoke about how much he loved this country and why he did.  Only in America could you find immigrants from 30-odd countries in a room anxiously awaiting to be welcomed into a country where all sorts of possibility can really still happen.

I may lament that such possibility has decreased to a certain degree in the US, but I very much still agree with Preet (can I be on a first-name basis with this amazing lawyer just because he let me take a legal groupie photo with him last night?).

In discussing one of the big reasons why I left Hong Kong, I often complained how Hong Kong has limited opportunity.  It’s true that I have gone very far in HK, and I can probably go back to find just about any job I want now, but the opportunities I found are really not available to everyone.  I came to HK with an excellent educational pedigree, good work experience, and a fighter’s attitude.  It was this background that gave me a huge leg-up and got me where I did in HK.  I may not have gotten any of these if not for having been born and bred in the US to my hard working immigrant mother.

In Hong Kong, not every college-aged student can find a seat at a local university, and thus, has no choice but to go to an expensive school abroad.  Obviously, most international students don’t get financial aid.  In contrast, in the US, there are just so many opportunities for everyone to get higher education, this would never be an issue here in America.

Access to education is simply so fundamental, and it really is appalling how limited this access is in such an advanced place as HK.  Sadly, for all those folks who still manage to seek out great education, their parents have paid a substantial penny for it.  And for all those who could not, they are the ones who become invisible in HK, completely neglected by their country.

This is a big reason why the students of Hong Kong protested for so long in the Umbrella Revolution, and why there continues to be signs of unrest. There simply is no real future for these young people.

And so yes, I do feel strongly about being back here in the golden land of opportunity, the US, where my future offspring, should I have any, WILL have a (pretty) fair shot at just about anything.  I still believe this deep in my heart and hope that as a 1st generation American, I can do even more than my immigrant mother could do for me. And I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to be born here and am so happy to be back.

As Preet said, only in America do we have the explicit right to the pursuit of happiness.

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