Proof of Belonging: My Grandpa in Texas

By Michelle Lim, Voting Rights Policy Advocate. Cross-Posted from Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA.

My grandpa and me cheering on the Houston Astros -- our last home game before I moved to Los Angeles.

On Monday night, at the dinner table, my 79-year-old grandpa asked my mom if he will be safe driving around since SB4 was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday, May 7th. I was speechless when my mom told me this over the phone. My family lives in Katy, Texas, a city within the Houston metropolitan area. I did not know what to tell her, and I couldn't make any promises that SB4 would not affect our family.

My grandpa immigrated to the U.S. in 1974, as a 37-year-old man with a one-month visa. At that time South Korea was under the regime of Park Chung Hee, an infamous dictator who rose to power through a military coup in 1961. During my grandpa's short 37 years in Korea, he experienced the last remnants of the Japanese colonialism, a heartbreaking civil war, and eventually, martial law. When he arrived in the U.S., he saw, for the first time, economic stability and a nation without perpetual political fragility. He was able to envision his new life so clearly that he did whatever he needed to bring his family. He truly believed that if he just worked hard, it would be enough.

SB4 now makes my home state a "show me your papers" state. Inspired by Trump's mass deportation agenda, SB4 empowers local law enforcement to ask about a person's immigration status through racial profiling. It is considered to be one of the most radically anti-immigrant bills to become state law.

After SB4 was signed, my grandpa asked me if he needs to carry his naturalization certificate whenever he leaves the house. Since he heard that he's not supposed to photocopy it, he considered folding it and carrying it with him in his wallet. "I can't speak English as well as you. They won't believe me if I tell them I am a citizen," he said.

What I find to be the most ironic is that the violation of his civil rights and the oppressive police force were memories my grandpa was supposed to leave behind. Despite the fact that immigrants and people of color have put their blood, sweat, and tears into building this country, my grandpa feels like he needs to prove his worth here because he looks different and talks differently. He tells me, "Yes, you were born here and you're a citizen, but to them, it doesn't matter. You look ‘different' and they will think you are not American, which puts you in danger."

We worry for all of our undocumented friends at church. We fear for our black and brown neighbors who get discriminated just by the fact that their skin is darker. We wonder if our humanity will be measured by our appearance. No non-white person should have to feel like they have to prove that they belong here. People of color should not have to prove the legitimacy of their existence with a piece of paper. We should not have to feel that merely being in public could jeopardize our safety.

Texas' hateful, xenophobic and racist law is a forewarning for what could be a reality to other states across our country. With greater reason, we must fight together for SB54, the California Values Act. We must protect our communities, even if we thought they were not ours to protect. We have to safeguard our civil rights across California from the current administration's fear-mongering and racist agenda -- an agenda designed to pit us against one another. We cannot lose another state. We have to reclaim our humanity and stand up for our home.

"I look Korean and I speak Korean, but America is my home," my grandpa told me. "I feel afraid when they try to make me feel like this isn't my home. Because where do we go then?"

Michelle Lim is the Voting Rights Policy Advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA.

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