2008年11月21日上午8时三十分，国会议员奥格林(Al Green)和约翰卡博森(John Culberson)在犹太人社区2008“美丽坚桌”感恩节早餐会(2008 America's Table - Thanksgiving Breakfast)上与来自犹太裔社区、华裔社区和其他社区的一百多位代表一起在休斯顿西区美丽华大酒家宴会厅(Marriott Houston Westchase)共同庆祝2008年感恩节的来临。犹太裔社区休斯顿分会执行长阮迪(Randy Czarlinsky)致欢迎词，内务部主席纳雷维(Nat Levy)、资深牧师若阿比斯蒂夫摩根(Rabbi Steve Morgon)、会长崔丝(Tracy Stein)，华裔社区代表林富桂、杨俊、谭秋琴、孙铁汉、美南台湾旅馆公会会长陈沅、休士顿台商会会长林飞虎、艺术家宋海燕等均出席了早餐会。
公园小学的小学生合唱团首先一起合唱了德语民歌“Berighte Dich Zion”，拉丁民歌“Durme，Durme”，意大利民歌“Marianina”，苏维埃民歌“I am Dancing with the Vine”，以及“This Land is Your Land”和“America the Beautiful”等世界各民族歌曲。各位社区代表、来宾和国会议员分别上台朗读事先写在小册子上诗句，主题是庆祝我们多元化的根，分享我们的价值观。
celebrating our diverse roots and shared values
Adams Costa Spencer Lind Tanaka Carney Schultz Pucinski Leibowitz McLaren Gonzales Szymankiewicz Giannini Humphreys Zimmer Poulos Finley Kahn Trugglio Singh Sandburg Jackson Kogovsek Smith Rivera Acosta Demetrios Nemec Schwartz Nwaguru Rosenbaum Kimura Beck Teters Foulks Koproski Calderon Lew Durley Branovan Sharma Hassan Montalto Paterson Jordan Cheng Gioia Noriega Ellison Josephs Kassab Phillips Puri Letona Linares Brooks Gilchrist Mineta Levine Patel Tsosie Yoo Meghani Verdeja Aoun Parens Al-Suwaij Morris Rangel Hong Lafley Nganji Ahuja Totenberg Lewis Shamim Padrón
We are each on a journey.
You are holding the eighth annual edition of America’s Table®.
As in past years, the brief narrative on the white pages is intended to be read aloud at the Thanksgiving meal. It helps us express gratitude for living in a nation where each of us, regardless of background, is entitled to a place at the table.
The facing pages contain profiles of eight accomplished Americans. These profiles can be read at the Thanksgiving meal or whenever you have time. Five of the profiled individuals arrived in America recently. Another is descended from slaves. All are deeply engaged in helping America fully achieve the promise of opportunity and mutual respect.
By reading America’s Table® on Thanksgiving, we add new meaning to our most beloved and universal holiday as a time to celebrate our diverse roots and shared values. In some homes, a leader designates the parts to be read. At other gatherings, people simply go around the table, switching readers at each sentence, paragraph, or page. Do whatever feels right for you and your family and friends.
And enjoy a warm and peaceful holiday.
The insightful questions of our children, innocently asked,
Chung-Wha Hong “We were watching the presidential debates with Jimmy Carter, and I remember my mother saying,‘He’s going to be the president and he does the dishes.’”
Growing up in South Korea, Chung-Wha Hong gained her impressions of the United States from black-and-white TV.
“America is heaven for women and children.”
Hong was eleven when the family arrived in St. Louis, in 1977. Local people were welcoming, she recalls, but the schools offered no programs for students like Hong who spoke no English. “I went to school and slept all day.”
Her immigrant experience and the influence of her parents, both religious leaders and social reformers, shaped her career choice. After graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Hong returned briefly to Korea, where young activists inspired her.
Back in the United States, she worked in Washington, D.C., for Korean and Asian organizations before moving to New York to engage at the grassroots level “on work that flows from my identity as a Korean-American immigrant.”
As head of the New York Immigration Coalition, Hong now helps immigrants of all backgrounds cope with what she describes as a convergence of issues facing new arrivals, including: poverty, lack of English language skills, and limited access to government services. These challenges, says Hong, are compounded by anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Part of my job is to challenge people that this is not what this country is about, to tap into people’s better instincts of generosity and justice.”
Not every journey was easy.
A.G. Lafley knows something about diversity.
On his father’s side, Lafley is descended from a French Canadian man who migrated to New England in the 1850s and married a Native American woman. A few decades later, his mother’s family arrived in Boston from County Cork, Ireland.
“My mother was adamant about understanding the world and people who are different from you,” says Lafley. “She was a card-carrying member of the League of Women Voters.
I remember being dragged around in the ’52, ’56, and ’60 presidential elections in neighborhoods we didn’t live in.”
Lafley enrolled as a Ph.D. student in history before a hitch in the Navy overseeing retail supply shifted his career goals.
After Harvard Business School, he joined Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble in 1977, becoming CEO in 2000 and chairman in 2002.
For Lafley, diversity is a competitive advantage at a company that employs 138,000 people from 140 nationalities and ethnicities, and provides household and personal care products for more than three billion consumers.
Lafley recalls a recent conversation with a young mother and her family in a modest home on a hillside above São Paulo, Brazil. “We sit around the kitchen table,” he says.
“I learn through her story.”
“It may take a little longer to work across cultures and languages,” says Lafley, “but we’re going to come up with more ideas and create something that will make a difference.”
Sometimes the difference is big.
“We developed a unique and proprietary product that can render any source of water anyplace in the world potable.”
We are each part of America’s journey.
Jean Nganji “Are you Hutu or Tutsi?”
“Go home and ask your parents,” the teacher commanded.
The next day, he recalls, “I said, ‘I am Tutsi.’” Nganji’s parents then pushed him hard to excel academically.
“Why?” he asked.
“Just listen,” they said. “Don’t ask questions.”
The answer soon emerged, as Nganji was forced to repeat grades, despite his competence, because he was Tutsi. When he realized that a Tutsi admissions quota made it difficult to attend college in Rwanda, he was accepted at a small school in Massachusetts with the help of his friend Andre, who had moved to America.
The two young men became college roommates soon after Nganji arrived in the United States, in October 1989. But Andre was Hutu, and a year later, with the outbreak of war, the friendship ended.
The genocide started on April 6, 1994. On April 15, Nganji learned that his parents and youngest brother were killed.
The daughter of his eldest brother, who perished, was saved by her nanny, a Hutu woman who claimed the four-year-old was her little sister.
Today, Nganji lives near Boston. He tells his story at schools in America and travels regularly to Rwanda on a project that helps Tutsi and Hutu youth tell their stories through film. “I have found therapy and peace talking to young people.”
“Do not fall into the traps of ignorance, bigotry, and racism.”
In some parts of the world, our differences would
Gurpreet Singh Ahuja was completing his residency in New Delhi, in 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated.
Reports that the prime minister was shot by Sikhs set off reprisals throughout India. “As a physician in the hospital, I saw the charred bodies of those young men and women.”
The violence contradicted his experience growing up. “As a Sikh, we’re reminded to respect all faiths. They’re all paths to the same central truth.”
He and his wife, Jasjit Singh, also a doctor, moved to New York, in 1986, where they continued their medical training before moving to Washington, D.C., and then to Southern California. They visited family in India annually.
“Every time I stepped foot back on American soil it would give me a great sense of exhilaration and liberation.”
That feeling was tested in the aftermath of 9/11 and the rash of hate crimes that began with the murder of a Sikh living in Arizona. The events evoked memories of 1984. Says Ahuja, “I never lost faith in the system in America.”
He helped establish the California Sikh Council to promote tolerance and educate people about the Sikh faith, and now serves as president of the council. Jasjit Singh is vice president of the Central Orange County Interfaith Council.
“As a relatively recent immigrant, I am very appreciative of the opportunities that this country has given me,” says Ahuja. “Our value system must remain steadfast. That’s what distinguishes us from most any other country in the world.”
We believe in fairness.
Nina Totenberg “Ninotchka, we’re proud of you.”
Nina Totenberg still cherishes her father’s words. She had just endured a period of intense scrutiny after her reporting led to testimony by law professor Anita Hill, during the confirmation hearing of Justice Clarence Thomas.
Her father, Roman Totenberg, a world-renowned violinist, performed across Europe by age eleven. A Polish Jew, he left Europe in 1935. “He saw the rise of Hitler,” says his daughter,“but he came to America because it represented a kind of equality and meritocracy that did not exist in Europe.”
Nina Totenberg’s mother, Melanie, shared her interest in American politics. “I remember my mother watching the Army-McCarthy hearings on TV all day every day, explaining to me what was going on,” says Totenberg. “I knew who all those senators were and I was eight years old.”
At 16, reading The Making of the President, the classic bookabout the 1960 election, Totenberg confirmed her childhood desire to be a witness to history. “I wanted to be a reporter from the time I realized that I couldn’t be Nancy Drew.”
For the past three decades, Totenberg has reported for National Public Radio and is best known for her coverage of the Supreme Court. “There are a lot of injustices in the world and in this country,” she says. “The ones that I can do something about—I will try to do something about.” She credits her father, who still teaches at age 97.
“You can’t get my dad to do something he thinks is not right.”
John Lewis Growing up in a large family on a small farm in rural Alabama, John Lewis cared for the chickens.
When his parents wanted to sell or trade chickens, or have one for dinner, “I would protest,” Lewis recalls. “They were creatures of God, and we didn’t have a right to abuse them.”
Lewis was fifteen in 1955, when Emmett Till, a black teenager, was brutally murdered in Mississippi, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, and Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the Montgomery bus boycott. Listening to King on the radio, “It was like he was saying, ‘John Lewis, you can do it, “You, too, can make a contribution.’”
Lewis went to Nashville, to study nonviolence and become a minister. He participated in sit-in demonstrations, Freedom
Rides, and the creation of a campus group called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“Even when I was being beaten, I saw these individuals almost like the chickens,” he says. “They were innocent creatures and something happened to them.”
As chairman of SNCC, at 23, Lewis stood with King and other civil rights leaders on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in August 1963, preaching, “Wake up, America.” He has exerted leadership in Congress since 1986, representing the district around Atlanta. “We’ve made progress,” says Lewis. “The world is so different from the world I grew up in.”
Still pursuing his vision of a “beloved community,” Lewis asserts, “We need to turn toward each other to create a greater sense of community and belonging.”
We are each responsible
Progress can be slow as we propose and protest, argue and advocate.
Tasneem Shamim In the late 1990s, at about age 40, Tasneem Shamim began to feel spiritually empty.
She missed a sense of compassion and universality, which she remembered from her childhood in India and could not find in the mosques in New Jersey, where Shamim, a doctor, lives with her husband and three children.
“One of my early memories is going with my grandmother to the small villages. My grandmother started organizations to help women out of poverty and oppression.”
To help reconnect with her feelings, Shamim visited the holy sites in Mecca and Medina, and she decided to cover her hair. Her mother and sister were concerned about potential antagonism, and one friend asked, “Do you have to go to chemotherapy?”
For Shamim, the head scarf is an opportunity to prompt and answer questions about Islam. Most important, it makes her more conscious of her roles in life.
“You become a doctor mostly to please God. God says, ‘You cannot help Me, but help the creatures that I have created.’”
Shamim also began studying Sufism, a spiritual strand of Islam. At the urging of a Sufi leader that she express her religion in good works, Shamim established the Muslim Women’s Coalition, a national organization devoted to community service and mutual respect.
“People accept that America is a quilt.”
Eduardo Padrón “I was very shy.”
“Knowledge is something that no one can take away from you.’”
In Miami, the boys were taken in by another recent immigrant. Padrón enrolled in school, worked several jobs, and struggled to learn English. While he succeeded academically, making a speech at a campus club tested his confidence.
“I was shaking so much, the microphone fell to the floor.”
When the audience applauded warmly, “I felt so good,” says Padrón. The feeling remains. “There’s hardly a day that Idon’t meet a student who I see as a reflection of me.”
At MDC, Padrón has balanced the career development curriculum with life skills. “I learned the hard way that knowledge is important,” says Padrón. “But how you use it is equally important, to become a well-rounded citizen, and someone who’s kind and cares about others.”
Early next year, Padrón will become chair of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and intends to use this platform to advance his vision.
“Higher education is no longer a luxury,” Padrón asserts. “If our nation is going to lead, we need to educate as many people as possible. It’s all about opportunity.”
We are the stewards of America,
For additional copies of America’s Table®, to read more profiles, and to view the America’s Table® videos, visit www.ajc.org or www.americastable.org. For more information about America’s Table®, contact Ken Schept at email@example.com or 212 891 1446.
American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Center for American Pluralism first published America’s Table®:
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