25 Jun 2018
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An Unfinished Story

A new book celebrates the United States’ history of immigration
by April White

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In 1961, at the age of eight, Elaine Chao (MBA 1979) traveled to the United States from Taiwan with her mother and two sisters aboard a cargo ship. It was a harrowing 37-day journey to reunite with her father, who had come to the country three years earlier in hopes of building a better life for his family. In the 1980s, Adem T. Bunkeddeko’s (MBA 2017) parents escaped from war-torn Uganda to a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Queens. There they raised their children and helped other friends and family acclimate to this new country. And in 2000, Amanda Loyola (MBA 2020) watched her parents recite the pledge of allegiance at their naturalization ceremony. Fifteen years after the couple had fled a dictatorship in Brazil, they achieved their dream of becoming United States citizens.

Those are just a few of the more than 70 stories collected by Andrew Tisch (MBA 1977) and Mary Skafidas in Journeys: An American Story, to be released this year on July 3rd. “This is a country of immigrants,” says Tisch, co-chairman of the board of the Loews Corporation—and the grandson of Avraham Titenskaya, who arrived on Ellis Island from Ukraine in 1904 when he was barely more than a toddler. “We wanted to celebrate that.”

What inspired you to write this book?

I had been invited to speak at a naturalization ceremony at the New York Historical Society. I planned to tell the new citizens about my own family’s arrival in the United States. It’s a story that has been passed down from generation to generation to remind us that, for our family, America has been a land of opportunity. But as I was sitting on stage waiting to give my remarks, I thought to myself, “Unless you are Native American, everybody in this country has a story of coming here from somewhere else.”

How did you find those immigration stories?

We just asked. Most people were very willing to tell their family stories. Of course, not all of them are happy stories. It was more difficult to get the stories of African Americans, because many of their relatives came here against their will. But those are some of the most wonderful ones, to see what their ancestors could accomplish once they gained their freedom.

Journeys: An American Story editors Mary Skafidas and Andrew Tisch

Do you see a common thread running through all the essays in the book?

The commonality is the self-sacrifice that my ancestors—that everyone's ancestors—were willing to make to seek something better. Think about, especially, those early immigrants. They had no idea what they were setting forth into when they left their homes. They got on a ship, and they didn't know if they were going to fall off the end of the Earth. Immigrants take great risks for the betterment of their families and future generations.

People often talk about the United States as a “melting pot” of immigrants, but you don’t like that metaphor.

The “melting pot” metaphor stresses the homogeneity of the US population. Almost every one of us came from somewhere else. I like to think of the country as a mosaic. A mosaic is made up of many tiles of different colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. When you look at it from afar, it’s one big picture, but as you get closer, you can see how each individual tile contributes to the whole. But a mosaic is only as strong as the grout that hold it together. Without this bond it is nothing but a pile of rocks.

You argue that immigrants are essential to the cultural fabric of the nation, but you also make a strong business case for immigration.

We need immigrants for employment at all levels of the economy. Think about it: Forty percent of all Fortune 500 companies were started by either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Those 200 companies together would make up the fourth largest economy in the world. We need to continue to grow our country and our economy, and the best way to do that is through immigration.

Why did you leave blank pages at the end of the book?

Those pages are for the readers to write their own stories. We want to spark a national discussion about the role of immigrants in our country, but this book isn’t a political statement. It’s just a reminder: We all came from somewhere else.

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Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1977, Section E
Class of MBA 1979, Section C
Class of MBA 2017, Section H

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