Immigration -Common ground can be found in a new America

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Dallas Morning News interviewed John Hammond, Dr. Jari Khan and Mike Ghouse

A new American citizen holds a U.S. flag after a naturalization ceremony last month.
William McKenzie: Common ground can be found in a new America
Published: 04 November 2013 09:13 PM

John Hammond speaks fast and greets a stranger with a broad smile. He
watches his computer while listening to a conversation but answers
quickly when asked a question. The energy is what you would expect from
an entrepreneur whose career involves multitasking.

Hammond owns
FunAsia, a collection of entertainment centers and banquet halls that
primarily cater to Asians in Richardson and Houston. The certified
public accountant also owns a radio station. And he has started
remodeling an abandoned office tower he bought in North Dallas. The
entryway to Hammond’s office displays pictures of him with prominent
members of both political parties, including President Barack Obama and
former Secretary of State James Baker.

Dr. Jari Khan practices
medicine in Collin County, where he and his family have resided for the
last decade. The soft-spoken internist did his training in New York
after arriving from Pakistan in 1999.

Hammond came from Pakistan,
too. Except his name was not John Hammond. He changed it about the time
he became an American citizen. He knows Anglicizing his name, and those
of his children, is controversial among some fellow Muslims. But he has
no regrets. “A name connects you to a place,” says Hammond.

Ghouse spends almost every waking hour promoting tolerance and
diversity. He heads the Dallas-based Foundation for Pluralism. (Ghouse
also contributes regularly to The Dallas Morning News’ Texas Faith
blog.) A native of India, Ghouse came to the United States through the
sponsorship of a Mormon he worked with on a business project in Saudi
Arabia. Now he heads an organization whose goal is inclusion of all

“I feel it is important to be part of the place where we live and are sustained,” he says.

four of us talked recently in Hammond’s office about what it takes to
assimilate into America. This country is engaged in one of its great
periodic demographic shifts, where we are once again refashioning the
face of America. I wanted to hear from them what it is like for
immigrants from countries with significant Muslim populations. How do
they make it in America?

Interestingly, each of them said it made
a difference if you came here by yourself as opposed to coming as part
of an extended family. If you came here alone, they agreed, you are
likely to be much more motivated to get out, join groups, volunteer your
time and create associations.

By contrast, if you arrived as
part of a larger family, you are less likely to get out into the larger
community. You have your own affiliations already in place.

As I
listened to them talk, I thought of my own family’s experience. The
McKenzie side of my family came to Galveston from Scotland in the 1880s.
The first generation mostly stayed close to the island and maintained
its clan. The second and third generations ventured farther out, moving
away from Galveston and becoming part of their new communities.

takes time, however. Meanwhile, some immigrants with extended families
live in parallel universes, especially if they don’t speak the language
or understand many customs. The challenge for social and cultural
institutions, such as civic groups, religious organizations and business
associations, is to reach out and bring them into the whole.

certainly is involved in finding common ground. Along with his medical
practice, he works with an annual Muslim for Life blood drive to support
North Texas. He is active in Plano’s Multicultural Outreach Roundtable.
And through his volunteer work, he has met the mayors of most North
Texas cities. His faith, he says, teaches him to contribute to the
community where you live.

The lives of Hammond, Khan and Ghouse
are just three of many successful stories of integration. As debate
continues in Washington about immigration reform, it’s important that we
all remember that such stories exist, whether they involve émigrés from
primarily Muslim nations or from Mexico.

A more open immigration
system will change the face of the country. Still, common ground can be
found amid our diversity. It will just take hard work.

Dallas Morning News editorial columnist William McKenzie’s email address is wmckenzie
He moderates the Texas Faith blog at and
contributes to the Education blog. Follow him on Twitter at

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