This is a re-posting of something I wrote a few years ago...
There is a quote for whom I do not know the source, but it goes
"We have all picked fruit from trees we did not plant, and we have all drank from wells we did not dig."
And in a lot of ways this is how I feel about my life. You see I am an naturalized citizen of the United States and my transition from six year old immigrant to an adult PhD holding citizen of the U.S. has been smooth and unmarred by hardship or discrimination. In this, I realize I am truly lucky.
In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, this was the first significant restriction on immigration in U.S. history and not only affected those wishing to immigrate to the U.S., but also those who had already settled here. Chinese immigrants were now permanent aliens and excluded from U.S. citizenship.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act, which allowed immigration from China and permitted Chinese residing in the country to become naturalized citizens. This was due in large part to China being an ally of the U.S. during World War II. Despite the fact that the exclusion act was repealed in 1943, the law in California against Chinese-Americans marrying whites wasn't repealed until 1948.
Until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, all immigrants to the United States were restricted to 2% of the number of people from a given country who were already living in the United States in 1890, according to the Census of 1890. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished all national-origin quotas and allowed unlimited visas for family reunification.
Which is how, in 1983 my family immigrated to America. So I owe my opportunity to grow-up and live outside of the stifling fundamentalist laws of my country of birth to the many immigrants who came before me. I am here because a vast array of non-immigrants fought, agitated, and eventually won a chance for a greater number of immigrants to come to the U.S. I have reaped the benefits of an immigration battle I did not fight. I became a citizen of the United States in 1994.
In 1996 I voted in my first presidential election. A right that was only granted to women in 1920 after a long and hard fought battle. The Silent Sentinels, for example, protested in front of the White House for 18 months starting in 1917 to raise awareness of the issue. Again, I reap the rewards of a battle I did not fight.
In 2008 I received my PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1740, the university did not allow women to attend as full-time students until 1880, and then only in subjects deemed appropriate to women. It wasn't until 1956 that the first female faculty at Penn was awarded tenure. I owe my PhD to the countless female scientist who came before me, who worked in closets and cellars without pay or titles, who fought for recognition and equality. Once again, I reap the rewards of a battle I did not fight.
All my life I have reaped a harvest of plenty from trees that I did not plant and wells I did not dig. All that I define myself by, all the privileges I enjoy, come from battles that were fought and won long before me. The rest of that quote goes something along the lines of..
"so let us plant trees and dig wells so those that come after can eat and drink as we do"
So on this Fourth of July I would like to acknowledge all those who have gone before me, who have made the life I live possible and I would also like to promise all those that will come after me that I will continue the good fight for equality, for justice, for freedom.