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Until our luck runs out
Happy 247th, America!
July 4th is conventionally a day to reflect on our great good fortune on this Substack. On July 4th, 2021 I had less than a quarter of the readership this Substack enjoys today. Still, to this day, this personal essay about what America has meant to me, a kid who first set foot on its shores at five, remains one of this site’s most read and most liked pieces. On July 4, 2022 some of my favorite fellow Americans shared their reading recommendations about this grand experiment. My friend Sarah Haider also published a memorable personal essay riffing on my piece from the prior year.
Today, I’ll keep it short and sweet. I can’t see how I could have lived the good life I have anywhere else in the world today. I came of age in a couple of America’s golden decades. Public schools were solid, public debate could be frank and spirited, standards were high, some of the most brilliant minds in the world flocked to our universities. As an adult, I enjoyed over two decades of absolutely unfettered, unedited personal expression on the internet, at times in legacy print publications' online arms, at times independently, at times in obscure, iconoclastic corners of the internet.
And now I have the immense luck to juggle two jobs my immigrant parents can barely comprehend. On the one hand, I pursue that most American of 21st-century dreams, alongside a native-born American and an adult immigrant, I, a childhood immigrant to America, spend my days working on our all-consuming genomics startup. And on the other, thanks to a similarly composed crew of immigrants and native-born dreamers and innovators who thought up and constantly improve on Substack’s platform for independent free expression, people pay me to unravel the stories of our amazingly restless species, as preserved in every copy of our DNA.
Here is my 2023 contribution towards a little patriotic perspective and reflection. Below are an original 13 US citizens and residents whose minds I enjoy and whom I can’t quite imagine contributing as much to humanity from within any society but this one.
My original 2021 essay Get Lucky follows below:
I chose America.
I came at five, preliterate, marching self-importantly from one Heathrow connecting gate to another, my mother trailing serenely behind me, carrying the baby and everything else. Letting me believe I was leading us to our destination.
We came to keep my dad company while he finished his PhD He had done his Masters outside Bangladesh, too, and returned after. For the first couple of years, I knew my idyll was a temporary one. It didn’t keep me from getting attached.
Once my dad had a PhD and sponsorship, I began to hope. I became America’s most ardent booster. My parents would waffle. They never got very good at being Americans. On a good day, it was the land of opportunity and everything was better than Bangladesh. On a bad day, everything was worse. I had very little use for my parents’ conversations, save for the stay-or-go ones. Then, I hung on their every emotional hue. It is the only question on which I ever remember advocating for myself. According to my mother, I also once threatened to throw myself out an upstairs window if they didn’t buy me a bike like everyone else had. She has no concept of how much more heavily the question of whether I could have America forever hung on me at that age. It felt like life and death.