An Unexpected Talk in Phoenix
We sat down with Andi Ronald Li, unexpectedly as he overheard another interview we were doing and asked if he could speak as well. Andi's name came from his parents' attempt to have something that sounded seamlessly American without giving up their Chinese roots. His middle name, something uncommon in China to begin with, is a tribute to the American professor that helped his father come over to the United States and find work. They are still very close. The origin of his name speaks deeply to Andi's experience as the son of Chinese immigrant parents. He remembers a happy, "Americanized" upbringing in Arizona on a block with a cul de sac and 55 kids on the block to play with.
He never remembered feeling out of place or different, he said he "may as well have been a white kid." Some of this may have been from his parents. His mother and father never spoke Chinese in the house because his father, a lawyer, was told early on that his clients would trust him more if he spoke without an accent. So he grew up learning and speaking English to the point where he notices his Chinese is sub par compared to his family and Chinese friends.
In a lot of ways, the way Andi felt the challenges of being an immigrant family through his parents. He recalled when his father first came over he came without his mother because she had a teaching position in China she couldn't yet leave. For the first couple years, Andi's father would speak Chinese to the wall so that in the echo, he could hear someone speaking Chinese back to him. Andi remembers finding some of the poetry his dad wrote to his mother across the globe and feeling he must have been in a very dark place. Andi says when people descriminate against immigrants and say things like "go back to your own country," they aren't thinking what it takes for a person to give up all their roots to come to a new culture and country to make something there for themself.
Andi has always felt included in America and his perspective on the country hinges strongly on that feeling of inclusion. He has a hard time imagining people wanting to spend so much energy fighting to exclude or belittle immigrants, gay and trans communities, religious groups, or anyone else. If nothing else at least, he says it's a waste of energy, remembering a line his dad told him a number of times when he was young
But far beyond the practicality of not excluding people, the deepest promise of American freedom for Andi is the right to be able to live according to one's own values and not be judged and ostracized exclusively for the values they hold. He believes that freedom is, at core, the "right to respect for who you are, no matter who you are, if you're homeless or a high-power lawyer, you have the right to respect for your self and what your stand for."
His political beliefs are also now occasionally often a point of contention in his relationship, which is something interesting and enlightening that I'll explore in a different post in "Thoughts From The Road" really soon.