I bought An America Family by Khizr Khan for my husband, both wanting to support and honor this brave man, his family, the son that he lost, also knowing it’s a book Don would enjoy. I had no idea I wouldn’t be able to put it down.
So much love on every page. Love and poetry.
Waiting for routine car maintenance at the Kia dealer, I sobbed while I read.
Just a few highlights:
I landed in Houston in late 1979 carrying a single silver Samsonite suitcase and $200 in my pocket, which is the kind of detail every immigrant remembers to include, decades after the fact, when he’s telling the story of how he came to make a success of himself in America.
There is a statue above the main entrance to the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, a bronze of Lady Justice. She is leaning forward, her feet anchored to the façade between two sandstone columns, blindfolded and holding a scale in each hand.
I glanced up at her as I pulled open the door, the statue a silhouette against the gray clouds rubbed into the springtime sky. That figure has always been, to me, a perfect representation of what is best about America, the idea that justice is blind to rich and poor, to Muslim and Christian, to black and white, that her scales will balance properly without regard to who stands before her. It has not always been executed with precision, but the ideal is exquisite, encapsulating the fundamental desire of people everywhere: to be treated with the same dignity as everyone else. In America, that ideal was written into law, and – before me – embodied in bronze.
Then I waited. I sat on a bench in the gallery with a few dozen other people, all races and colors, just as when I’d waited to take my exam. I wondered where they’d all come from, what circumstances pushed them or what yearning pulled them from the north and the south and the east and the west. Every immigrant has his reasons. Maybe they came to work or to escape persecution or to marry the person they loved. I knew even then that the details were only variations on a theme. Everyone who comes to America comes for the same basic reason: to be free to build a better life.
The Azaleas and the redbuds bloomed again, spring flowering the slopes of Carter Mountain. Ghazala wrapped books for another class of graduating Army cadets, fine young second lieutenants who received their first salute from a sergeant on the portico of the Rotunda. Then summer came, sticky and hot, and with it another platoon of cadets filing past the bushes and through the foyer and into the room with Humayun’s pictures and our Gold Star flags.
’It’s as if Humayun has lit a candle,’ she told me once, ‘and all of these young people are coming to light their own candles from his.’
For years the cadets came to our home every summer and we went to their graduation every spring. Those occasions were solemn, but not depressing, as they were less a reminder of what we’d lost than of what Humayun had achieved, of what he aspired to and represented, of the twenty-seven years we’d been blessed with him. In any case, it was impossible to remind us of our loss because it was every present, a shadow that would darken to a deep black some days and might lighten ever so slightly on others but would never fade completely away.
We got on with our lives as best we could, smoothing the hard edges of our grief until it became a chronic ache rather than an acute, debilitating pain. That was a private process, kept within the family and shared only with a few close friends. Even among the cadets, making their respectful pilgrimages each August, we did not speak of our sadness. They were training to be officers, not casualties; they had come to honor Humayun’s service, not to pity our devastation.”
I am an American patriot not because I was born here but because I was not. I embraced American freedoms, raised my children to cherish and revere them, lost a son who swore an oath to defend them, because I come from a place where they do not exist. I can perhaps see more clearly the blessings of America because they were once new to me. And because I hold those freedoms so dear, I often find myself explaining them to others, to make my passion for America theirs, as well.
When he secured the nomination, in late May 2016, I was badly disappointed. Had it really been only twenty-seven years since Ronald Reagan spoke so movingly of the shining city? Trump’s city was a frightened, isolated fortress, walled off from Mexicans and Muslims, from all the others. His America was crumbling and weak, a dreary landscape implicit in his slogan: To make America great again, one had to assume that it was not in fact great now.
Khizr Khan answered James King’s call, speaking his heart to the reporter. From The Father Of A Muslim War Hero Has This To Say To Donald Trump:
“We still wonder what made him take those 10 steps [towards the car],” Khan’s father said. “Maybe that’s the point where all the values, all the service to country, all the things he learned in this country kicked in. It was those values that made him take those 10 steps. Those 10 steps told us we did not make [a] mistake in moving to this country. These were the values we wanted to adopt. Not religious values, human values,” he said.
Alyssa Rosenberg sums it up well here in Khizr Khan’s memoir, ‘An American Family,’ made me want to be a better American:
An American Family is a small but lovely immigrant’s journey, full of carefully-observed details from the order in which Ghazala served tea at a university event, to the schedule of the police patrols in the Boston Public Garden where Khan briefly slept while he was in between apartments, to the description of Humayun’s headstone as a “slab of white marble with soft streaks the color of wood smoke.” And wisely, though the book includes the family’s decision to appear at the DNC and their preparation for that short, effective speech, Khan steers clear of Trump’s outbursts, which are clearly beneath his attention — and ours.
If the Khan depicted in his memoir is as guileless as he seems, then he is far from the hero of partisan politics some want him to be. Nor does he offer a prescription for what ails us here across the fruited plains. Rather, appalled by Trump’s divisive rhetoric, Khan asked himself, “What would Humayun do?” as he and Ghazala and friends carefully weighed the possible downsides of speaking at the convention. The deal was sealed after Khan received a letter asking for his help in stopping the deportation of a fifth-grader named Maria; the letter was written in a child’s hand by a friend of Maria’s.
I love hearing Khizr Kahn talk about his book on NPR in this interview Khizr Khan Says His Faith In America Is Stronger Than Ever:
A similar question was asked of Ghazala, and this is what Ghazala said: “Why do these people ask me that? … I see him every day. I hear him every day. He is here.” Because of our handicap, because of our limitation, we may not be able to communicate directly with them, see them physically. But they are with us. We feel the presence of Captain Humayun Khan every moment, every day.
In What Trump Can Learn From a Gold Star Family, Linda Chavez explains what brought the Khans to Philadelphia to speak on the final night of the Democratic Convention:
“Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future,” he said. “Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” The crowd exploded in applause.
Few people had ever heard of Khan or knew of the sacrifice he and his wife had made for their adopted country before the couple took the stage. Their son Army Capt. Humayun Khan was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign highlighted Captain Khan’s life and death in a short film that played before his father spoke. But the point was not just to honor the tragic loss of yet another brave American soldier; it was to repudiate the bigotry that had been spewing from Donald Trump’s mouth from the moment he announced his candidacy for president.
Khan’s story is both unique and archetypal. Like generations of immigrants before them, the Khans sacrificed in order to achieve the American Dream. They became citizens and raised their three sons to be good men. When Humayun joined the Army, the Khans, although fearful, respected his commitment to his country.
Sometimes it takes a newcomer to point out the beauty that old-timers take for granted. America, more than any other country, was founded upon ideals: individual freedoms, equal protection and due process of law. Khan reminds us that these ideals are worth fighting—and even dying—for. The Khans truly are the most American of families.
“I am an American patriot not because I was born here but because I was not. I embraced American freedoms, raised my children to cherish and revere them, lost a son who swore an oath to defend them, because I come from a place where they do not exist. I can perhaps see more clearly the blessings of America because they were once new to me.”
I love how this man helps us see our own freedom, genuine American values.
He spoke of the dignity he experienced after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1986. “I really clearly remember entering the courthouse to take the oath of citizenship. I had lived under too much laws, no rights, no liberties. Without any dignities, I walked in; I came out with that piece of paper, to most people that is a piece of paper, [but] to me it meant so much that I became a person of equal dignity.”
He even witnessed that equality waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles: “Sitting in the DMV, all of us, and knowing what a difficult experience that is, I saw the rule of law in work. Everybody was treated with equal dignity — or indignity, whatever you wish to call it.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever written a book review before. This book seems like a good first.
As Heather writes on Goodreads:
I have never cried reading a book. Never. Until now.
Khizr Khan is an exceptional writer and his life story is simply incredible. It’s uplifting, powerful, humble, gracious and deserving of attention.
Khizr Khan is a wise man, a patriotic man, a man of faith. He has struggled and worked hard and changed the world in a significant way. His story deserves to be read, acknowledged, appreciated.