From sea to shining sea

If there is anything I have learned in the past 15 years since coming to America in 2000, it is that America is beautiful. Today, I will be dipping my toes in the Atlantic Ocean as I spend Fourth of July with my parents in Jacksonville, FL this year. I can't help but think that exactly one year ago, my breath was being taken away, in much the same way, by the Pacific Ocean at


, and for everything in between, I am endlessly grateful.

Looking out into the Atlantic Ocean (Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville, FL)

America is great because it is so vast. It's not only vast in landscapes, but also vast in ideas and in diversity of its People.

Each city that I have had the chance to visit in the past year has been so absolutely different, each so absolutely gorgeous, energizing and vibrant in their own ways. Yet, what is more noticeable is all the things that weave us together as Americans and the common story, aspirations, hope and Dream we all share, whether born here or not.

America is not perfect and we have made mistakes, many of them. In fact, the manner in which we became such a vast Nation is not one of our best moments. But, as Emily Mortimer (MacKenzie McHale) says in Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom,"America is the only country on the planet, that since its birth, has said over and over and over that we can do better. It's part of our DNA."

People around the world look to America when they need a leader, a Nation that has a moral compass to stand up for the fundamental rights of all People and a Nation that recognizes the values it was created for. There's a lot to easily be cynical about, but it is the moments where America acts uniquely that we so often forget about how great our home is. From creating some of the brightest minds and promoting creativity to taking action on some of the world's hardest problems, America still remains both a force for good and a beacon of hope for much of the world. We are not in that position because we are perfect—we are in that position because we can so honestly, openly and vigorously have the tough conversations publicly, while still remaining one Nation.

A lot of people compare America with China nowadays. They talk about the Chinese government working so efficiently, a comparison that scares me. Efficiency is not what we want and was not what our Founding Fathers intended for. That's also not how democracy works, even if the world is moving faster now. For all the gridlock we have, we should also keep in mind that this Nation was built on the notion that there is no one right way and that all ideas should be put on the table, to be considered and discussed by the American People.

So, this Fourth of July, while you celebrate with friends, good food and amazing fireworks, also take a moment to reflect on all the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans and all the responsibilities so many of us, so often, shy away from. Reflect on how different we each are as Americans, but also everything that makes us One Nation. Reflect on all the mistakes we have made, how We the People can all work together to make this Nation better and all that we can be proud of and celebrate.

And so...

I pledge allegiance, to the Flag, of the United States of America,

And to the Republic, for which it stands.

One Nation, under God.

Indivisible. With Liberty and Justice for all.

Cross-posted on Google+:

I LOVE HK: a spark for democracy


My beautiful birthplace, Summer 2013.
There's a quote most often attributed to Thomas Jefferson that says: "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When governments fear the people, there is liberty."

And then, in "The Hunger Games," there's a quote that reads: "Every revolution begins with a spark."

I genuinely believe in these two profound quotes. And that's why today, my thoughts are with the brave peoples of Hong Kong, from students to working professionals, standing up for something they believe in and fighting for a universal right, namely universal suffrage, that we, as humans, should each have. I stand with you. I feel your pain and suffering. 

I say peoples, and not people, of Hong Kong because it's a diverse city comprised of so many backgrounds, beliefs, national and ethnic origins, race, religions and sexualities, all of whom are united to defend the freedom that Hong Kong has enjoyed over the past decades. It is precisely this freedom that has allowed Hong Kong to become a cultural, economic and political beacon in the East to so many.
Hong Kong today, September 28, 2014. Courtesy: CNN.
Governments like China cannot endure, at least not in their current form, especially in this new digital age. And a simple spark can lead to something revolutionary. The way governments work is a new game for this next century—people can demand their voices to be heard, more so than ever before and I believe what is right will prevail. Hong Kong has been so prosperous because of the equality and freedom—freedom of assembly, of expression, of information, of the press, of speech—that has existed over the past several decades. I don't think there is anywhere as prepared as Hong Kong to remind us that freedom is truly not free and must be defended daily.

My heart hurts and I am saddened seeing the devastating photos come out of Hong Kong, photos of streets that I have walked on and admired. But it also makes me proud of the citizens of Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, just like as in American cities, these shouldn't be seen as embarrassments, but rather, a functioning civil society able to hold thoughtful conversations and stand up for what they believe in. The government is the entity that should be embarrassed for their oppressive response and for governing without the consent of the governed.

That's why I also think, for me, I find stories like "The Hunger Games" so powerful, because people are living out these scenarios each and every day. It's quite inspirational if you think about it.

Night lights in Hong Kong, Summer 2013.

"Echoing Tiananmen, 17-year-old Hong Kong student prepares for democracy battle"
CNN and CNN International
—"Fear has been deeply rooted in our genes through the past 65 years. The majority of China's 1.3 billion people are not true citizens; most of the people are simply submissive."
—"You can form political parties in Hong Kong. You can publish books that are forbidden in mainland China. The media can criticize the central government and the chief executive of Hong Kong."
—"Mainland China is a tinderbox that's been physically suppressed by the authorities, and Hong Kong is a seed of fire."
—"The Communist Party is very scared of this tiny bit of land, because if true universal suffrage can blossom in Hong Kong, it is very likely true universal suffrage will end up happening in the mainland."

My thoughts regarding BSA's anti-gay policy

Over the past seven years, I have been a member of the +Boy Scouts of America (BSA), one of the largest and most well-known youth organizations in the nation, founded in 1910. In 2012, I became an Eagle Scout. Looking back, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the program, which has given me countless challenges, experiences and opportunities; these have all improved and shaped my life.

The Boy Scouts of America, along with other aspects of my background, has also caused me to become an advocate of the most basic of human rights. That is, every individual should be treated equally and is entitled to his or her own opinions (thoughts, morals, values) and the guarantee of the freedoms of assembly, expression, religion and speech, so far as the resulting actions do not impose physical danger or harm to others within society.

Therefore, not surprisingly, I feel strongly in regards to the controversial Boy Scout policy, a national ban on gay members and leaders.

Since BSA's establishment, it has aimed to "prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law." As a result of this mission, the BSA won a Supreme Court case in 2000 which upheld its national ban on gays. BSA simply stated that it excluded such members because "homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill."

However, to me, restricting membership access ultimately betrays the BSA's mission altogether, more so than "homosexual conduct," due to BSA's firm ideology of treating everyone equally, a conclusion I came to throughout my years as a Boy Scout.

Duty to my country and being morally straight.
As a Scout, one promises the following, as part of the Scout Oath:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
One phrase sticks out to me in particular: "To do my duty to God and my country." It is my belief that following the Pledge of Allegiance, also something each Scout must know, is the soundest way to fulfill the duties as a citizen for one's country. That very Pledge says:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 
In the Scout Handbook, "with liberty and justice for all" is described as "with freedom and fairness for every person in the country - you and every other American." Clearly, doing one's duty to the country involves treating each individual equally and giving each person the same type of access regardless of their individual beliefs, morals and values.

Another phrase is important to me: "morally straight." Think what you may, but the official Scout Handbook states that this means "to be a person of strong character... you should respect and defend the rights of all people." Again, the Scout Handbook alone explicitly states the contrary of the intention of the BSA's anti-gay policy.

The Scout Law.
The Scout Law is "the foundation of Scouting, expressed in just twelve simple points."
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Quite obviously, there are a couple traits that should immediately be emphasized when discussing the issue of providing equal membership for gay members and leaders. The following traits and summary definitions are per the Scout Handbook.

Friendly - A Scout "offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own. Accept who you are, too, and celebrate the fact that you don't have to be just like everyone else. Real friends respect the ideas, interests, and talents that make you special.

The Scout Law, as per the Scout Handbook.
Clean - "There's another kind of dirt, though, that can't be scrubbed away. It is the kind that shows up in foul language and harmful thoughts and actions. Swearwords and dirty stories are often used as weapons to ridicule other people and hurt their feelings. The same is true of racial slurs and jokes that make fun of ethnic groups or people with physical or mental limitations. A Scout knows there is no kindness or honor in such tasteless behavior. He avoids it in his own words or deeds."

In these two traits of the Scout Law alone, the Scouting organization (in a perfect world) clearly believes that everyone, regardless of their background, beliefs, origin or race should be fully accepted and treated as an equal. The Scouting organization is violating various parts of the Scout Law by not respecting people of different beliefs and not allowing those people to "accept" themselves.

As a result of the violations of "friendly" and "clean" of the Scout Law, the BSA violates several other traits as well.

Obedience - Obedience must be guided by good judgment. If someone tells you to cheat, steal or do something else you know is wrong, you must say no. Trust your own beliefs and obey your conscience when you know you are right.

Brave - Saving lives is not the only test of bravery. You are brave every time you do what is right in spite of what others might say. You are brave when you speak the truth and when you admit a mistake and apologize for it. And you show true courage when you defend the rights of others.

Personal experience.
Whether it is in my own Troop or at a summer camp, I have had the fortunate opportunity to meet many people, from all walks of life with hundreds of different beliefs on everything. This diversity created a better environment and allowed me to foster and grow. It made me a better person who was more open-minded to the people of this world.

From my personal experience, the ban on gay members and leaders is a policy that is rarely enforced in the lower tiers of Scouting. Not only is it virtually unenforceable, but the majority of the population also realizes the stubbornness of the policy. The world is becoming a more open place, and the BSA should learn to adapt if it wants to survive.

The Boy Scouts of America is an organization that aims to educate youth on values, and making ethical and moral choices based on the values described above. What does this say about the BSA when the organization outlines various values but does not follow through?

It is understandable why the BSA would implement such policies. While it may seem as if it would reduce the amount of unwanted sexual conduct within the BSA, it does not accomplish that at all. On the contrary, it hinders the speed at which the BSA can fulfill their mission. More importantly, the American justice system is proudly known for its "innocent until proven guilty" mantra. Labeling all gay members and leaders automatically as sex offenders is hurtful and immoral.

A good analogy would be travel. Though many terrorist attacks have been associated with people of Middle Eastern descent, those same people do not automatically get banned from traveling, or even restrictions on where they can travel. It is only if they pose a credible threat that they get put on a no-fly list, or arrested at the airport.

Each individual is equal, despite the different beliefs we each have, which ultimately make the world a better place. It is my sincere hope, that in the near future, any boy or man who wants an opportunity to grow and learn in the Boy Scout program will be able to do so without unequal treatment.

What are your thoughts? No matter what your viewpoint, add your voice to the discussion, because it should be heard. Discussion is the best thing possible for progress.

"What the Girls Scouts and the Boy Scouts are trying to teach is important. They're trying to teach kids to be leaders. And the more that we teach people how to accept people for who they are, the more self-confident they'll be and the better leaders they'll become."