It closes the door on what replenishes us as a valley and a nation
By Scott Herhold
I’ve just returned from visiting my daughter’s family — including grandchildren — in Washington state. On our last evening in Seattle, we went out to dinner with friends just as the last embers of a protest against Donald Trump’s immigration ban passed us. Half of me wanted to join the protesters.
When I flew back into San Jose at noon Monday, I knew why in a visceral way. You can’t walk around San Jose or the rest of the valley without noting our extraordinary diversity. If you don’t feel comfortable with people of different backgrounds, you probably already have moved away.
That’s why I’m cheered that the people who have prospered from that wave of diversity — and their forebearers who sacrificed to achieve it — have risen to the forefront of this debate. This isn’t just a matter of right and wrong: It’s a question of protecting the lifeblood of the valley.
The remembrances begin with Fred Korematsu, the Oakland civil rights activist whom Google honored in its daily “Google Doodle’’ sketch. Born in Oakland, the son of Japanese parents, Korematsu challenged the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
For his pains, he was convicted in federal court of violating military orders. When he appealed with the help of the ACLU — itself under fire — the U.S. Supreme Court decided on a 6-3 vote in 1944 that the Japanese internment was justified. It wasn’t until 1983 that Korematsu’s conviction was overturned.
“He was a regular guy who stood up and felt the wrong thing happened to him,” said Richard Konda, the executive director of the Asian Law Alliance. “Even after his case was overturned, he was committed that this not be repeated. He said ‘This happened to me, it was wrong, it should not happen again.’ ”
Korematsu, who died in 2005, marked the danger of excluding a class of people from participation in American life, apt reminders for the Trump people seeking to control Muslim immigration today. But there are others who have emerged as leaders now because their parents or grandparents could come here.
Consider Pierre Omidyar, who was born to Iranian parents in France but grew up in the United States, where he founded the auction site eBay and became one of the valley’s premier philanthropists. Would Trump’s order have applied to his family?
Or take our new congressman, Ro Khanna, who won convincingly against Mike Honda in November. Khanna, the grandson of an Indian freedom fighter, was born in the U.S. But he is the son of Indian immigrants, heir to a venerable tradition.
And finally, there is Sergey Brin, the impossibly rich co-founder of Google, who showed up at the San Francisco airport Saturday night, telling a reporter “I am a refugee too.”” His family fled Russia in 1979 because of persecution against Jews.
These are only a handful of the best-known people from immigrant families. Almost all of us know someone who has contributed enormously in our workplace or school or neighborhood, sometimes after a harrowing passage to America.
“We’re risking what makes America exceptional,’’ says newly elected San Jose Councilman Lan Diep, who is the son of Vietnamese immigrants. “To the world, America stands as a symbol of hope. To the people who make it here, we’re a land of opportunity.’’
Trump’s order deserves our protest not just because it’s unconstitutional, though it is. Not just because it was poorly rolled out, though it was. And not just because it causes chaos for Americans abroad, though it does.
At bottom, it demands our denunciation because it closes the door on what replenishes us as a nation and a valley. No amount of fear — which is what the Trump people are selling, deep down– can counter the loss of energy and hope and generosity that have made America great.