“White adjacent” and “extremist” are the terms my opponents have labeled me because I do not meet their narrative of the oppressed minority immigrant who craves unlimited handouts.
I came to the United States as a refugee. My parents refused to take handouts because their goal was to utilize every opportunity this country gave them and work until they achieved their goals. After only a few months in the US, that opportunity came, and we moved to Africa where my father worked as an American contractor developing third-world countries. It was hard and unglamorous work, but it was an honest living and exemplified the “audacity of hope”.
My mother brought her five children back to the U.S. seven years later for an American education, while my father remained in Africa for several years seeing his family once every six months. It was a sacrifice they made because it meant their children would have, that I would have, a chance at the American Dream. Their sacrifice was no different than millions of Americans who work hard every day to provide a better future for their children. The same intrinsic sacrifice my Caucasian in-laws made while they worked multiple jobs to give my wife and her brother a brighter future.
Of the three languages I speak, English is the most difficult. It does not have multiple verb tenses like the French language or the formality of the Vietnamese language. While the other students were learning language arts, I was wading through the nuances of slang, idioms, and sarcasm in English as a Second Language (ESL) class. I was determined to graduate from ESL and assimilate into my new culture. I watched cartoons and carried a plastic six-shooter on my hip. I wanted to be an American.
I graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s inaugural class and then the United States Naval Academy. I served in the United States Navy as a Special Operations Officer, specializing in Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Deep Sea Diving, and Riverine Warfare. I proudly dove into the ocean depths recovering wreckages like the Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor, and the Piper Saratoga piloted by John F Kennedy Jr.
I diffused bombs in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. I patrolled the Tigris and Euphrates in gunboats like the ones that patrolled the Mekong Delta in my native Vietnam. I recovered victims of natural disasters in places like Pakistan. In each of those places, I brought my personal American flag, my most prized possession, and flew it high everywhere I went because it represented the hope of my family, the sacrifice of my parents, and the honor of serving.
The hope of the Star-Spangled Banner faded when Joe Biden abandoned our allies and friends in Afghanistan. Watching mothers hand their babies to Marines only six short months after I left Kabul was disheartening. It was the same scene in Vietnam in 1975 when my parents were desperate to get our family out. I decided to retire and serve this great nation in a different capacity: as a U.S. Representative.
Politics was never my dream or goal. I had already realized my dream by standing shoulder to shoulder with America’s greatest: Its military servicemen and women. Just as they looked out for me on the battlefield, I feel it is my duty to look out for them in Congress, where we now have the lowest number of veterans serving in history. Between the House and the Senate, there are only 89 veterans who stand to lead our Republic.
Politics is a different beast, where the slings and arrows are not bullets and I.E.D.s, but a word salad of half-truths and unapologetic lies. This now seems expected in a new arena where courage hides behind a keyboard and tweets away. Maybe words are easier than being a part of the solution. For me, hashtag activism doesn’t solve problems.
I have a request for my opponents who prefer to use labels to divide us: Instead of calling me “white adjacent” or “extremist” because I believe in the Constitution… I believe I, and my family, have earned the title of Americans.
- Hung Cao is a highly decorated Navy Captain, Vietnamese refugee and immigrant to the United States, and Republican candidate for Virginia’s tenth congressional district.