What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Journeys

In My Family’s American Dream, Bootstraps Met Blocks of Government Cheese

After an Arduous Journey Emigrating from Vietnam in the ‘70s, the Author Benefitted from Both Personal Resilience and Public Assistance

Vietnamese "boat people" aboard the refugee ship "Tung An" hold out pails and cans to crewmen of a Philippine Navy ship that docked alongside the vessel February 21,1979 with a fresh supply of drinking water. The refugees have been stranded aboard the Tung An in Manila Bay for eight weeks. (AP Photo)

By Kim Luu

I spoke my first words on a boat: “milk,” “cockroach,” and “itchy.” An unusual toddler vocabulary perhaps, but not surprising considering that I spent the second year of my life on a freighter with thousands of other people, a floating petri dish of equal parts vomit, diarrhea, desperation, and hope. Every inch of that boat teemed with refugees: the cargo hull, hallways, and deck. Even the captain’s steering room had ceased to be a sanctuary.

I am an immigrant from

Encounters

Recovering the Stolen Histories of American Slaves

The Tragedy of Treating People as Property Has Left Only Scattered Scraps to Hint at Their Cultures and Communities

Kelley-on-slaves-LEAD

By Sean Kelley

For the past eight years I’ve been living with 72 people. These 28 men, 25 women, 12 girls, and seven boys are long dead—they were Africans sold into captivity and shipped to America in the mid-1700s. It’s generally accepted that a factual account of their experience—like almost all Africans enslaved in America—is beyond recovery. Even Roots blended fact and fiction into something its author referred to as “faction.”

But thanks to laborious archival research and the linking of two rare and