During my first-ever trip to the university bookstore, the store clerk, seeing my public policy books, asked: “Do you plan to become an environmental advocate?” That moment defined, for me, what the American Dream truly means – that an immigrant can dream of being a part of one of the great democracies in the world and achieve it.
Reflecting on my twenty years in the United States, I am proud of what I have achieved in making a difference in the world through my environmental advocacy work and in my personal life. As I sit here and celebrate the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I express my gratitude towards the Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and frankly all immigrants from many walks of life who came before me and whose hard work, determination, and resourcefulness have paved a path for people like me to be able to experience the richness of the American life.
At the same time, our success is never fully ours. It is shared by people who contribute to our experiences in big and small ways. People who celebrated my accomplishments during good times and those who sympathized during my lows are an integral part of my success. Lucky for me, I have experienced the full spectrum of those experiences and I am immensely grateful to my family, friends and mentors who have unconditionally supported me to realize my American Dream.
Not all Americans are in a position to fully realize their American Dream. The reality for the new graduates is much different from what it was for me. While the economy continues to grow, the quality of life is regressing for many. Our societal success should not only be one-dimensional based on economic growth but must also encompass clean air and water, and healthier, happier, and resilient communities. The COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on a very uncomfortable truth that the basic human needs such as energy security, clean air and water, and health access are not equally distributed to everyone. Though hard work and determination are undoubtedly essential ingredients, energy security, cleaner air and water, and health care are the building blocks to achieving the American Dream. While achieving economic prosperity, we must also work towards a society that truly empowers people by providing equal opportunity and equal footing.
That is why I am so fiercely advocating for clean energy access for everyone in New Jersey through our NJ Shines campaign. When we can so readily create programs and policies that work for a segment of people in the name of prosperity, why must we then hesitate to extend services and programs when it can double or even triple the prosperity for so many more people? Our Clean Energy Equity Act aims to change the lives of people in measurable ways and ways that are long lasting, sustainable and truly create health and wealth resilience for all – a necessity to pursue life to its fullest.
I am fortunate that I was born in a family that was able to send me to the United States to pursue higher education and to follow my passion. Now, I am in a position to pave the way for others. I frequently ask myself, how well am I using my privilege for the betterment of others? I would like to think my efforts at Vote Solar are a humble step towards that vision.