Remembering Roots

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jason S. Ram
  • 479th Flying Training Group
Editor's Note: May is Asian Pacific-American Heritage Month. Lieutenant Ram is currently stationed with the 479th Flying Training Group at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The 479th FTG is the 12th Flying Training Wing's geographically separated unit and conducts Combat Systems Officer Training for the U.S. Air Force.

I've always been taught to "never doubt your-self in the face of adversity." That to do so would, over time, kill all the potential you have been given in life. With this in mind, I would like to think I have not injured myself too much on my journey to become what I once thought was impossible, an officer in the Air Force - a small stepping stone for me, but the tip of an iceberg for the aspirations of three other Americans originally from a rural jungle village some 5,498 miles from home; my family.

I was born to traditional Indian parents native to the Fiji Islands, raised in Southern California by the wisdom of MTV and well versed in English with a decent tongue for Hindi and Spanish - the latter due to a lifetime of being tirelessly mistaken as such. I suppose I can understand how I'm considered to be Asian, South-Asian, American-Indian, East-Indian, Pacific Islander or just plain "other" in the box whenever I got frustrated or confused with employee applications, since I always identified myself as "American" growing up but never found this option available in the paperwork for afterschool jobs. Ultimately it took witnessing an act of murder to find my identity years later.

My parents, Premilla and Siri, drew from a culture where gender inequality and division of social class were the norms. They met for the first time on their wedding day per the rules of arranged marriage (Mom didn't have a choice) and were expected to live a simple, rural life. Instead, they decided to take a chance and migrate to the states shortly after my sister was born and five years before yours truly came into the picture. While life was not easy for any of us in Los Angeles, my parents did everything they could to ensure my sister and I recognized all the opportunity around us. Siri worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet while Premilla served as a fulltime mother and factory worker for a small bridal company in downtown LA. Although regarded as naïve and timid by some, Mom never seemed to doubt herself and worked hard to eventually become the most successful female in the family; personifying perseverance in my eyes as a child.

Still, even with this in mind, I did not see my future beyond ordinary until walking into homeroom as a chubby 16-year-old Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 and watched the attacks unfold live on CNN. Before this day, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life other than write a novel and maybe work in Hollywood if I was lucky. However, as I sat there glued to my desk, hands trembling and in utter silence amidst sporadic screams by teachers scattered about, everything I once thought I'd likely become suddenly changed to everything I would now fight to become from that day forward. By the end of the week, I outlined three goals I wanted to achieve at some point in my life:

1. Lead a career dedicated to the service of others.
2. Identify and embrace how my family's roots tie into my own as an American.
3. Develop my own take on "the American Dream" just as my parents did years before.

Although I did not have a clue about how any of this could be done at the time, I refused to believe that they were beyond my reach. Motivated by a newfound drive I discovered deep within, I was absolutely determined - now more than ever - to achieve these goals at any cost and do my part to honor those I saw die in New York.

Ten years later, dawned in full service dress uniform with my hands trembling just as they did on 9/11, I stood before a select crowd of friends, family, coworkers, cadets and Masonic brethren while an ROTC instructor read my commissioning biography as I prepared to "cross into the blue" as a 2nd Lieutenant. Less chubby, more focused and with eyes locked at attention, I reflected on the journey I took to get to that moment in time.

"...while a fulltime student, Jason consistently worked overnight security jobs in order to pay for tuition out of pocket and graduate college debt free..."

And then it hit me; the moment I noticed mom's face beam with gold, my sister sit-up straight and my once emotionless father cry for the first time in human history as the end of the script neared.

"While born and raised in the United States, Jason's cultural roots draw back to the South Pacific as his family comes from the Fiji Islands and belong to the Hindu faith."

While it was great to be recognized that day, I honestly considered the ceremony to be more of a celebration of my parents than myself. My success was a direct result of the decisions, risks and sacrifices they made in coming to this foreign but fertile land some 30 years ago. The examples they set of embracing faith, hard work and determination inspired me to aim higher than I thought I could before and become the first Indian in the family to earn a college degree, get published and join the military as an officer. I considered my AF career in itself as a personal tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives a decade prior at ground zero. Before 9/11, I would have thought the life I lead today as virtually impossible. However, after this day, I finally came to understand my true identity and fell in love with an amazing dream I'm convinced I have yet to awaken from to this day -- the American dream!