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We Asked Immigrants: What Does It Mean To Be An American

Jeremiah Jensen/KERA News
From left to right: Mona Kazim Shah, Javier Giribet and Kwami Koto.

This week, as a part of NPR’s “A Nation Engaged” project, member stations across the country are talking about what it means to be an American.

Today on Think, Krys Boyd explored the topic with a panel of Americans who began life as citizens of other countries.

The KERA Interview

Mona Kazim Shah, host of the radio show “Politics Today” on FunAsia Radio and an immigrant from Pakistan on: 

… what makes her an American:

“I speak up a lot now. Even though I spoke up a lot back home also, but not quite as much. And I think it’s either my age or the fact that I’m older or I’m here, maybe combination of both. And then I do catch myself saying to myself, ‘Oh, I’ve become so American, because I can say what I want to say now.’”

… why immigrants should reach out to the community:

“I think if we present ourselves as people, and not a number that migrated from a certain country, I think people can connect with you better. I think it’s our responsibility also as immigrants to reach out to the locals and tell our stories and hear theirs. And on that individual level if you connect then you connect as people and as a nation. No matter where you’re from, you are under the same roof now so to speak.”

Kwami Koto, veteran programs manager for Hire Heroes USA and an immigrant from Togo on:

… the struggle to feel at home:

“If you have lived in America for a long period of time, you feel you are from America. But when you are in America you feel you are from Africa. But when you go back to Africa you don’t belong there anymore. You feel like you are an American. We are constantly in a dilemma. We don’t belong there. We don’t belong here. So where do we really belong?”    

…. Javier Giribet, KERA intern and student at the University of Texas at Arlington and an immigrant from Mexico on:

… his favorite American food.                               

“I honestly love crunchy tacos … My parents are like, ‘No we hate those. We know how to make authentic Mexican food.’ And I’m like, ‘No. They are so great!’ But I do miss some of the real authentic food that you cannot find here.”