Guest column

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America First

What does that mean and other thoughts on immigration, raising kids and reading.

By Lisa Aslanian
By Lisa Aslanian


“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it,” — Harper Lee, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

My kids read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the ninth grade and they both vaguely quoted the above to me, asking if I knew what it meant. They did, and teenagers like to let you know when they get it and see whether or not you get it, too, and the obvious answer is yes.

But the not-so-obvious question on the heels of the above answer ought to be asked.

How do we not fall prey to the conceit that we are all Atticus Finch or Boo Radley, or whatever character grabbed your imagination when you read the book at about the same age as your children?

How do we apply Lee’s insight to our lives in Laguna Beach, a town that is less (far less) than 1 percent black and, of course, no crime has been committed here and no righteous litigation is part of our narrative.

Perhaps we can do it by asking ourselves a straight-up question.

Do I have empathy for the people, mostly Mexican, who I employ to clean my toilets, mow my lawn and have hired to care for my children, and if I have empathy am I willing to act on it? If I have empathy, am I willing to extend that empathy to paying these folks a living wage and showing up at an America First rally that takes aim at them and not at me? And will it do any good, anyway?

And, of course, from there I have to ask myself if even this gesture is not an act of conceit.

Am I pretending that I would do what Atticus Finch did by doing the right thing, knowing he would lose and it may very well cost someone a life and impact the lives of his children? Do I think I have been cast as Gregory Peck? Is this my 15 minutes? My list of heroes has Peck and Andy Warhol side by side, so am I equal parts righteous and irony? The answer to the last question is I am probably more irony than righteous, but irony is a luxury. Is righteous a luxury too?


Resident Lisa Aslanian is the mother of twin teenagers. She earned her doctorate from the New School for Social Research in New York. She is pursuing a masters in clinical psychology.

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  1. OK…..I read your piece and have mixed feelings. I offer no apologies for living in a really good neighborhood….BECAUSE….I know what it’s like not to. I grew up VERY POOR and lived in a miserable neighborhood where people knew what it was like to be scared and vulnerable most of the time. Education IS what got me out. I think that most of the liberals who expound on these issues have the luxury of doing so from a position where they have known very little else. Those people who came here for a better life ILLEGALLY? Well, you can get here legally, TOO. The difference is that way is much more difficult. THIS is the greatest country the world has ever known and we deserved to ask people to come here the hard way. HOW do I know this? I also spent seven years in the military and I saw a lot of those places where people WANT to come here from. I became VERY patriotic AFTER joining the military and AFTER seeing and being in those places. THIS place is worth the difficulty of coming here the right way. You will take from this that I am not a “liberal.” Correct. I am VERY “conservative.” Conservative comes from seeing “the other way” and understanding it and not wanting to be part of it. A lot of “liberals” would be willing to give it away because they don’t know HOW HARD it is to earn it. I DO>

  2. I m not hearing any mixed feelings in what you wrote. What are the mixed feelings.

    I am not interested in the liberal v. conservative angle and thus I did not mention it.

    I am the granddaughter of a man who came to this country legally. He had to shine shoes and clean toilets to put himself through the high school he tested into with no formal education. He was neither liberal nor conservative. I don’t have a clear but political home either.

    But he was pretty clear on one thing. He worked as hard shining shoes and cleaning toilets as he did running a corporation. He was legal but no one wanted to pay him as a legal immigrant. They preferred to pay him cash.

    If you are concerned whether or not the people work for you are here legally, then you can always ask for their ss # and pay them on the books.

    Thanks for your comments, appreciated,


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