The Speech

Last Thursday at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), there was Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, and then there was The Speech. You know which one I’m talking about.


Before last Thursday, there were probably many who believed the ‘the personal is political’ is something great in theory, but rare in practice. Then again, before last Thursday we didn’t listen to, watch or stream Khizr Khan’s speech in front of the delegates at the DNC in Philadelphia.

In a matter of seven minutes, the late Captain Humayoun Khan’s father slowly and deliberately delivered a speech written from a personal well of grief no one outside of the community of Gold Star parents — those who’ve lost loved ones in battle — could imagine. He did it before 5,000 delegates and, ultimately, the rest of the world.

Taking a Constitution out of his pocket and asking if Donald Trump had even read it, he drove a wooden stake into the vampiric heart of Trump’s unendingly frenetic and cowardly Twitter feed, and into the candidate himself. Khan reclaimed American ideals of patriotism and sacrifice not belonging to one race, culture or religion. He shoved Trump’s concept of anti-Muslim American exceptionalism right back into Trump’s face.

Being a Twitter watcher this campaign, it was remarkable to see the ‘radio silence’ from @realDonaldTrump on the Friday after the DNC. It was as if his own handlers had to lock up his cell phone and shut down his Twitter account that day for fear the candidate would damage himself further by attacking Khan’s parents. Or more likely, the Trump campaign had to come up with a way to respond to The Speech without sounding like a bunch of heartless, bigoted, right-wing, xenophobic, anti-patriotic Christo-Fascists.

You have no idea how much fun it is to write that last sentence.

Fun, because Khizr Khan’s words could have been spoken by my father, who became a citizen in Hawaii when it became the 50th state, or by my mother who at the age of 76 became a citizen in 1995, a few months after California passed Proposition 187 — a ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using non-emergency health care, public education and other services in the State of California.

Fun, because my sister and I were born here, but until 1995 my mother was a legal alien. She registered annually by sending in her alien registry card at the post office every year of my childhood. I remember holding her hand as she dropped that card into the brass-colored post office box slot — feeling a child’s sense of relief from the words of re-assurance she uttered — that she could stay here in this country with us for another year.

She was half-joking at the time. She was fine, being married to an American citizen. Yet, we felt doubly re-assured by our mom’s own sense of relief doing her civic duty as a registered alien. The thought of being separated from my mom was something I had to constantly suppress as a child. Those thoughts came in waves of panic from a terrible fantasy that only a child in fear of being separated from a parent could have. We lived in an America that had not placed immigrants on their national radar as political bait. Not yet. That came later.

The lives of immigrants living in America — no matter what their status — is a mixture of a fierce desire to belong, a sense of shame for being different, and the terror of being excluded, isolated and persecuted. And that’s while there’s no anti-immigrant sentiment wafting about the national political discourse. Now imagine what it’s like when there is.


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To witness a bigoted, vain, bullying millionaire get his comeuppance from a Pakistani-American, Bronze Star soldier’s parents was so deeply satisfying I found myself watching Khizr Khan’s speech again and again. It was medicine. Medicine for the sickness of xenophobia and bigotry we’ve been experiencing here this election year — and each day of every year since Sept. 11, when we not only lost 3,000 people, we lost our way.

This weekend, I could not be out and about to socialize. There were feelings I was processing after the convention — as you can see — about my own history and my own struggle here as a child of immigrant parents. That’s how hard and how deeply I felt the speech.

It had me question and re-affirm the value of my own otherness and all the experiences I have had from childhood until now in this country. It also raised my alertness level on what is happening to children now who, like me 60 years ago, are now ‘others’ in this new, strange land.

Yesterday I read an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center that details the impact of this year’s presidential campaign on children. It is summarized as this: “Our report found that the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.” 

There are moments described in the report that recall so many of my own, which I won’t recount here. But no child should have to suffer them. Not here or in any country.

Which brings me back to The Speech. We don’t often experience moments in history that throttle the nexus of racism and bigotry that permeates this country’s history, let alone this year’s presidential campaign — Martin Luther King Jr., John and Robert Kennedy the exceptions — at least, they’re not experienced by everyday folks like you and me. Yet, so simply, movingly and powerfully the speech said what we Others have been saying all along. And said it on a bright and vivid media canvass that few have penetrated, no less: a national political convention.

There are no pats on the back necessary for the Khans. They were compelled to speak out of civic duty, pride in their country and grief for their son. The rest of this country — and people anywhere else in the world where xenophobia grips our communities with fear of others — needs to look up to them and re-evaluate closely, asking: Where was the place we lost our souls? By providing first-hand witness to the reality of sacrifice for love of country, the Khans point their fingers at the place we need remember to go.

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About Fe Bongolan

Planet Waves writer Fe Bongolan lives in Oakland, California. Her column, "Fe-911," has been featured on Planet Waves since 2008. As an actor and dramaturge, Fe is a core member of Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," producing work that empowers the voices of all women in trouble, from ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS, to young girls and women at risk. A Planet Waves fan from almost the beginning of Eric's astrology career, Fe is a public sector employee who describes herself as a "mystical public servant." When it comes to art, culture and politics, she loves reading between the lines.

13 thoughts on “The Speech

  1. Lizzy

    Such a wonderful and moving piece, dear Fe. One of your finest ever. Thank you for sharing your experiences here – for helping us to understand so deeply how this must feel. Children born of immigrants here in Italy were not automatically Italian citizens (Ius soli, or birthright citizenship) until about a year ago, when they finally passed a law to change this barbaric situation – up until then children could only apply for citizenship when they turned 18.

    1. Fe Bongolan Post author

      Thank you Lizzy:

      I had no idea that was happening in Italy. And I applaud the Italian people for taking that next step.

      We are living in a world where we are coming closer together than ever, whether we like it or not. To say we’re in a growing pains cycle is, putting it mildly.

      But then again, looking at the history of Western Civilization’s diaspora (voluntary or not) of Africans, Asians, Jews, and Europeans the patterns of social behavior follow a similar response template. The tribalism, frustration-aggression, and the powers attempting to divide and thus control. We need to dismiss these concepts. The planet is growing too small to allow such bigotry to continue.

    1. Fe Bongolan Post author

      I do too, Pam.

      But if the Republicans and the Tea Party thought the “Uppity Negro” (which was one of their more polite epithets) was “acting like a king” while he’s legally in office which has a limit of two terms, imagine the revolt they would instigate if he stayed for a third!

      Besides, I wouldn’t want to be Barack Obama telling Michelle Obama he’s going to stay for another four years. There would be mayhem.

  2. Barbara Koehler

    Mr. Kahn’s speech took place when the transiting Sun was conjunct the U.S. Sibly chart’s North Node at 6+ Leo. Your testimony Fe has helped to flesh out the meaning of that Sun (consciousness) conjunct North Node (path, opportunity to advance). As moving as it was for me, Mr. Kahn’s speech obviously touched a deeper place in anyone in this country who has immigrated here or who has parents who immigrated here.

    The North Node in any chart points in the general direction of advancing the soul’s evolution within this lifetime. Oddly enough, Julian Assange’s birth chart if correct (July 3, 1971, 2:05 PM, Townsville, Queensland, Australia) also has 6+ Leo on the MC. This coincides with a transiting conjunction between Venus and Mercury a few weeks ago within a degree of the U.S. North Node. Although it is a cycle of short duration, it suggests that this period of time will highlight opportunities for our country to advance through the tools of Mercury (communication) and Venus (love), albeit from various sources.

    I find this a thrilling example of how the Universe is ratcheting up the speed with which the human species evolves. Perhaps we will see advancement we never dreamed possible in our lifetimes. Here is the Sabian Symbol for the degree of the U.S. North Node. . .

  3. aWord

    Well said, Fe. Esp your poignant, “…Sept. 11; when we not only lost 3,000 people, we lost our way”. Thank you. (The Khan speech does make ‘you’ feel a bit like doing a happy dance, doesn’t it?)

  4. Ramona

    Thank you Fe for sharing your story and for your beautiful, inspiring words.

    To quote your fine national poet: “And this whole anti-immigration sentiment that’s out there in our politics right now is contrary to who we are. Because unless you are a native american, your family came from somewhere else.”

    Passing on, for those interested in subtle activism, the WiseUSA Global Meditations.

    It’s a series intended to support the best and highest outcome for the US electoral process, taking place each month on the new moon (12pm/PST; 3pm/ET).

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