Kris Lawrence, a 25-year-old who’s half white and half Sri Lankan, an immigrant’s son, perfectly represents the “American Dream”: He proudly exercises his freedom of religion with a strong Christian faith, he possesses a powerful work ethic as a mechanical engineer, and he’s an advocate for diversity and inclusion in this country.
But America’s reputation with immigrants — even those like Kris — has not been the best. We say we welcome diversity and a difference of cultures and perspectives, but some Americans allow fear of change, of difference, of the unknown, to shape their view of immigrants.
Kris’s father, Raj, migrated from the island of Sri Lanka when he was 19-years-old in 1972. Due to his skin color, he experienced racism, discrimination, and low expectations of his intelligence, even though he came to the U.S. to study at Stanford University. Interestingly enough, most Americans would say they value education, and those who work hard for their “American dream”. Yet, Raj was a perfect example of that, and still did not live up to our cultural standard. Sadly, he isn’t an extreme minority: More than one in four adult immigrants in the U.S. have at least a college degree education.
“My father was an excellent student while he was in Sri Lanka,” Kris shared. “He studied for six hours a day, everyday.”
Kris had his own struggles being half Sri Lankan, as even his own grandparents did not accept the marriage between his white mother and his dark Sri Lankan father at first. “If you have kids,” Kris’s grandmother once said to her daughter, “How will we walk with them in public?”
Kris is part of the 30 percent of America that is a minority group. He studied mechanical engineering at Cal Poly, where he was even more underrepresented in not only a STEM field, but on a campus that lacks diversity.
Through all the difficulties both Kris and Raj have endured, one as an immigrant and one as an immigrant’s son, their Christian faith is what kept them grounded and strengthened them.
“My father read his bible every morning,” shared Kris’ brother, Sean. “One morning he slept in, and he woke up to a small earthquake that shook his bed. He hasn’t slept in again since. That time is for him and God.”
In Sri Lanka, Raj’s community was Christian, and it was a culture shock for him being in one culture that upheld certain morals and values that were so seemingly different to what he experienced in the U.S. As Raj’s son, Kris knows where his values lie, and in that, he knows the value of different cultures and perspectives brought to the table.
When we understand how much our immigrants and minorities add to our self-proclaimed values of individualism, morality, progress, freedom of religion, and democracy, they themselves should become a cherished value to this country.