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Arts & Culture

2 Immigrants On What Patriotism Means To Them

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Today, we've been exploring the meaning of patriotism on this Memorial Day weekend. Now, we hear from two women who were not born in the United States but are proudly American.

LAILA LALAMI: My name is Laila Lalami, and I'm a writer and professor, and I live in Los Angeles. I think for me patriotism means a constant questioning, a constant re-evaluation of what it means to be from this country at this particular moment, a constant striving to make it a better place - a more perfect union, if you will. I'm an immigrant to this country, and one of the things that struck me about America when I started living in it is how easily Americans accepted the idea that their country was the best country in the world, and what does it really mean for America to be the No. 1 country in the world? Does it mean that it has the best health care system? Does it mean that it has the best educational system? Does it mean that it's achieved the most perfect record on human rights ever? So to me, that's what patriotism means. It means to question rather than to accept the answer.

ASMA NAEEM: My name is Asma Naeem. I am the curator of prints, drawings and media arts at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian. You know, my parents came here when I was very young. I was not born here. I was born in Pakistan, and my parents were born in India. They left India because of the aftermath of partition, and they came to this country with all of the stereotypes that we think of when immigrants come to this new land. They came with optimism. They came with hope, and they came with starting a new life, and they did that, and they showed me and this wonderful country showed me that it can accept all kinds of people. And I deeply believe in that history. And so in how I relate to people now, people from all different kinds of backgrounds and political views, I hope that I am showing and growing as an American and showing my identity as an American.

SIMON: Asma Naeem of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and writer and professor Laila Lalami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 25, 2018 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous introduction to this audio incorrectly said Laila Lalami came to the U.S. as a child. She was an adult when she arrived.