This post, written for Reddit on Jan. 30, 2017, was intended to be an open letter to encourage other American Redditors to share their own or their family’s immigration stories. Within nine hours, it had a record score of over 90,000 points and over 25,000 comments. Many of these stories were far more eloquent and moving than my own. You can read them here.
After two weeks abroad, I was looking forward to returning to the U.S., but as I got off the plane at LAX on Sunday, I wasn’t sure what country I was coming back to.
President Trump’s recent executive order is not only potentially unconstitutional, but deeply un-American. We are a nation of immigrants, after all. In the tech world, we often talk about a startup’s “unfair advantage” that allows it to beat competitors. Welcoming immigrants and refugees has been our country’s unfair advantage, and coming from an immigrant family has been mine as an entrepreneur.
I am the son of an undocumented immigrant from Germany and the great-grandson of refugees who fled the Armenian genocide.
A little over a century ago, a Turkish soldier decided my great-grandfather was too young to kill after cutting down his parents in front of him; instead of turning the sword on the boy, the soldier sent him to an orphanage. Many Armenians, including my great-grandmother, found sanctuary in Aleppo, Syria — before the two reconnected and found their way to Ellis Island. Thankfully they weren’t retained, rather they found this message:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
My great-grandfather didn’t speak much English, but he worked hard, and was able to get a job at Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company in Binghamton, New York. That was his family’s golden door. Though he and my great-grandmother had four children, all born in the U.S., immigration continued to reshape their family, generation after generation. The one son they had — my grandfather — volunteered to serve in World War II and married a French-Armenian immigrant. My mother, a native of Hamburg, Germany, decided to leave her friends, family, and education behind after falling in love with my father, who was born in San Francisco.
She got a work visa as an au pair in the U.S., uprooting her entire life for love in a foreign land. After she and my father married, she received a green card, which she kept for over a decade until she became a citizen. I grew up speaking German, but she insisted I focus on my English in order to be successful. She eventually got her citizenship and I’ll never forget her swearing-in ceremony.
If you’ve never seen people taking the pledge of allegiance for the first time as U.S. citizens, it will move you: a room full of people who can really appreciate what I was lucky enough to grow up with, simply by being born in Brooklyn. It thrills me to write reference letters for enterprising founders who are looking to get visas to start their companies here, to create value and jobs for these United States.
My forebears were brave refugees who found a home in this country.
I’ve always been proud to live in a country that said yes to these shell-shocked immigrants from a strange land, that created a path for a woman who wanted only to work hard and start a family here.
Without them, there’s no me and there’s no Reddit.
We are Americans. Let’s not forget that we’ve thrived as a nation because we’ve been a beacon for the courageous — the tired, the poor, the tempest-tossed.
Lady Liberty’s lamp is dimming, which is why it’s more important than ever we speak out and show up to support all those for whom it shines — past, present, and future.
I ask you to do this however you see fit, whether it’s calling your representative (this works, it’s how we defeated SOPA and PIPA), marching in protest, donating to the ACLU, or of course, voting — and not just for presidential elections.
Our platform, like our country, thrives the more people and communities we have within it. Reddit, Inc. will continue to welcome all citizens of the world to our digital community and our office.
Disclaimer: Alexis Ohanian is an investor at Upworthy.
This post first appeared on Reddit and is reprinted here with permission.