“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This quotation has been significant so often in my life, and the teacher comes in the form of what I read, of what a friend or acquaintance says to me, and of what I observe in the world around me.
As I watched a program recently on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, I considered what I’m learning from the coronavirus. I know scapegoating and the blame game are rampant right now. I wonder how my Asian American friends are faring. Most of them are Vietnamese Americans but some Americans believe that all of Asian descent look alike.
As I watched the show, I realized that I never referred to a best friend at Toledo Woodward High School as Chinese American nor to two other best friends as African Americans. They, and my close white friends, were just best friends, united by a respect for education and the knowledge that ours would not end after high school graduation. Few students the year I graduated from Woodward would have considered college as most were interested in marriage and jobs in local factories.
Many of the persons who read my columns are aware of John F. Kennedy’s/Ted Sorensen’s “Profiles in Courage,” winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957, but I’ll bet few can list the eight senators whose biographies appear in that volume ( John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris and Robert A. Taft). Many of you will probably know there was a question about not only who wrote the bulk of the book but why it won the prize when it was not even a finalist for the Pulitzer.
Back to the coronavirus. By watching the program on the ways in which the U.S. has violated the rights of Chinese Americans (I’m a patriot, but I also am aware of the dishonorable acts we have committed in regard to Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants from countries such as Ireland, immigrants in general, Japanese Americans, persons not heterosexual, the handicapped, the mentally ill, etc.), I have become acquainted with Hannibal Hamlin, 15th vice president of the U.S. from 1961-65. Perhaps he was eclipsed, at least in my mind, by the powerful presence of Abraham Lincoln.
Among his achievements including his anti-slavery sentiments, Hamlin stood up against the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1982 while he was serving in the U.S. Senate.
I would pose a question to my readers: As we face the current crisis, what players would you nominate to be included as worthy recipients of a Profile in Courage Award. In addition to medical personnel, first responders, and political figures, think of persons in your family and your neighborhood. Tell those persons how you feel about them and why.
And maybe you will want to send a note of support or make a call to your Asian American friends who might really need it at this time in American history. We could all use affirmation as this disease drags on and threatens the strongest among us.