Questions of identity: Shoutout to CNN’s “Census: Who Am I?”

U.S Rep Ahn "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana's 2nd District
U.S. Rep. Ahn "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana's 2nd District

For the past two months, Americans have been told to “make themselves heard” by filling out the 2010 census.

In ten questions, we are supposed to tell the government where we live, how much we make, and most importantly, who we are. But who are we really?

I was intrigued when I stumbled upon a special news series by CNN.com, called “Census: Who Am I?” The series highlights different Americans’ responses to identity categorization on the forms and in their own lives.

One story that stood out was that of U.S Representative Anh “Joseph” Cao in the article, “From Vietnamese refugee to U.S. representative.”

Cao came to the United States at the age of eight while fleeing the Vietnam War.  Finding refuge in a foreign country posed difficulties that most immigrant groups face: problems acquiring a new language, nostalgia for native foods, and general feelings of displacement.

As a young adult, Cao made it his duty to assist other Vietnamese refugees through Boat People SOS, after hearing of hundreds of Vietnamese fatalities on escape boats headed for the United States. As for the survivors, the article goes on to say, “The lucky ones who were able to land somewhere would face cold rejections by a world grown tired of having to deal with refugee problems.”

Cao’s work with immigrant groups influenced his career as he became an immigration attorney in Louisiana.

Just a few years after starting his own practice, Cao found himself displaced once again through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  With the social and political economy of New Orleans in shambles, he chose to step up and represent the district politically where such representation had been absent for months.

The article gives readers a sense of the belonging Cao felt to his community in the face of travesty.  Citizens of New Orleans, whether black, Vietnamese, American or foreign, were  in the same predicament and came together in order to get through their hardships.

Towards the end of the article, readers are left with Cao’s new found sense of identity: not one of a former refugee but of a Vietnamese-American.

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