Families view American melting pot from the beach
By John Robbins Post-Tribune correspondent July 5, 2014 11:22PM
Crowds at the Indiana Dunes State Park enjoying the Fourth of July holiday Friday. | John Robbins~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2014 2:07AM
Of the thousands of people spending the Fourth of July weekend at the beach, many were relatively new to the United States, once the melting pot for immigrants who came generations ago to begin a new life.
The shore of Lake Michigan at Porter Beach, Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore this weekend was a place to find plenty of evidence of the melting pot in action. Families large and small, the very old and the very young, enjoyed the holiday at the beach.
William Cheung, originally from Hong Kong, was with about 20 members of the church he ministers to in Chinatown in Chicago, the Chinese Christian Union Church.
He and his mother originally came to the U.S. in 1997 when Hong Kong, then a British protectorate, was being returned to mainland China.
“In 1997 Hong Kong was very unstable,” he said. “People were worried about what would happen when China took over. The family wanted to go to a place more stable and avoid the rule of communists. America was a great option for us because of freedom and the American Dream.”
While here Cheung’s attitude has slowly changed, as has his understanding of the American Dream. “I used to think of having a good income and enjoying life,” he said. “Making a good income is no longer my dream. It is to have the freedom to have my faith and to share my faith with others. It is the most wonderful thing here in America. America gives opportunities to fight for the future, to fight for whatever they want. It is a wonderful gift.”
Sumit Gupta and Pooja Soni both came to America from India. Gupta originally came in 2006 to attend college. He left for six years, traveling to South Africa and Singapore. He met his wife, Pooja, while both were in South Africa. The two were married in 2012, the same year they came to settle in America. Now they live in Columbus, Indiana, working for Cummins Engine Co.
They don’t necessarily have special feelings for American independence — they have their own independence day on Aug. 15 when India, too, gained its independence from the British. “Maybe someday I’ll read some history to understand the concept,” Gupta said.
Gupta points to a bather wearing a swimming suit made of the stars and stripes. “I like being able to display the flag, to show they’re proud to be American,” he said.
Only the government of India is allowed to display the national flag, he said. An ordinary citizen is forbidden to display their flag even in the privacy of their home.
Gupta said, too, that local Independence Day parades are rare: “In India we watch the national parade in New Delhi on TV.”
The Pothanker and Kalanadhabhatta families have come to the Indiana Dunes from Hyderabad, India, by way of Chicago, where the two fathers are consultants in the information technology field. They brought their families to the beach for a long weekend of camping and hiking.
“We can be ourselves and be part of America, too. America is so many things. It takes blood to keep it up. We get to enjoy these things, I feel grateful for that,” Kalanadhabhatta said.
To him, America is where “innovation happens, inventions happen,” and it takes freedom and opportunity for that to happen.