America means freedom to them

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2020

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A friend of mine can’t for the life of him understand why some Americans are clamoring to replace capitalism with socialism.

Born in Vietnam, he was a young boy when he and his family barely escaped that communist nation amid gunfire.

America welcomed his family among thousands of Vietnamese refugees. His father, now in his 90s, sees his children living his vision of the American dream: they’re educated, with good jobs and flourishing families.

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My friend said all that he and his family ever wanted was the freedom to rise or fall on their own merits – the freedom he was denied in his native country.

I met a number of people like my Vietnamese friend while living in the Washington, D.C., region for nearly 10 years.

My landlord there and his family barely survived civil war in Lebanon. We became friends and he told me his story.

His father had two successful businesses in Beirut until civil war broke out. The family lost everything and was stuck in a bombed-out apartment building for more than four years.

In 1977, I was a carefree teen in a Pittsburgh suburb. He was dragging dead bodies into the street and setting them on fire – the only way to get rid of the horrible stench.

Eventually, his father scraped enough money together to get the family to Cyprus. A few years later, they arrived in America and settled in Alexandria, Va. He and his siblings – who only a few years before were destined to become lawyers and doctors – took jobs as busboys, dishwashers and hotel cleaners.

They saved until they had enough money to open a bakery, which is flourishing still, affording them the means to live their version of the American dream.

I learned of another immigrant story in Alexandria, about a fellow who made it to America from Vietnam. Speaking no English, he worked as a janitor for a fellow immigrant who’d managed to purchase and run a handful of fast food restaurants.

The fellow learned English. He became a cook and server, then an assistant manager, then the head manager. He saved. Last I heard, he owned three Taco Bells and was living in a nice home in suburban Alexandria. Two of my favorite people in Alexandria ran Pat’s Market, a small convenience store – brothers born and raised in India. The older brother had been a professor at a technical college, but when he and his wife married, they wanted better opportunities for their children. So he emigrated to America.

Unable to secure teaching work in Alexandria, he become a cook, busboy and janitor. He saved and brought his wife over. They saved more and brought his four siblings over, as well as his mother and father. Eventually, they saved enough to purchase the market, as well as a motel. When I last spoke with them, both brothers beamed as they told me they had children in medical school.

There’s one thing all these wonderful immigrants have in common: They love America, because they love the freedom that allowed them to pursue happiness. I wish native-born Americans eager to hand their freedom over to a socialist form of government could spend some time with them. Millions of immigrants know how precious and volatile freedom can be – and why we Americans should be vigilant safeguarding it.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated.