Sunday, November 4, 2018

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan


I am usually a notoriously slow reader, so it's noteworthy that I read this book in a mere 3 days.

I followed the 2016 presidential campaign closely, and I remember seeing Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democratic National Convention. Their presence was unassuming, but Mr. Khan's speech was electrifying. (The book ends with the telling of how he came to be a speaker at that convention.)

Mr. Khan is eloquent and thoughtful. His personal journey to America is a testament to American ideals. I actually felt like it was a privilege to have been given this opportunity to read about his life, and that Mr. Khan was gracious in his openness in sharing not only his personal story, but also his son, with the world. I was moved by his integrity, gratitude, and sense of duty.

Mr. Khan is the eldest of 10 children born to farmers in Pakistan. His path to becoming a Harvard-educated lawyer in America is unique and remarkable, but not unusual among immigrant stories. In reading this book, I was on the one hand completely in awe, marveling at his tenacity and resourcefulness. Yet, on the other hand, I know there are millions of other immigrant stories that are equally compelling and inspiring. This book is a much-needed window into the experiences of one immigrant, and, in my opinion, also goes to show just how much we need even more books to be eye-opening accounts of other immigrant experiences.

Mr. Kahn values education and family above all else, but the guiding principle by which he lives is his steadfast belief in the equal dignity of all people. He doesn't just talk the talk; he walks the walk, and he taught his sons to do the same.

I adored his recounting of how he met and courted his wife Ghazala, especially his observation in hindsight that the rules of propriety at the time that prohibited any political conversations early in their relationship very likely helped their relationship to develop.

Once they got to America, I was surprised at the complete lack of discrimination they experienced. I admit, I wondered if maybe Mr. Kahn was so smitten with America that he didn't recognize racism when it happened, or maybe even that his love for America was so genuine and earnest that it endeared him to everyone he met. Or who knows, maybe Houston in the 1980s was actually just a really tolerant place!

Throughout the book, Mr. Khan repeatedly returns to his favorite principles as outlined in the Constitution. He is especially fond of the 14th Amendment, which was particularly poignant to read at this time when the 14th Amendment is under attack.

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