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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 2/7/21

Good morning!


There is an explosion of writing and documentaries that touch on the immigrant experience. One such documentary is The Donut King on Amazon Prime. It is about the rise of a poor Cambodian immigrant who found his calling building an empire of donut shops (I still think it should be spelled “doughnuts,” but language moves on). His story is set against the backdrop of the devastation that was Cambodia after the war and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. The donut king came here with little and learned from Winchell’s, eventually opening his first shop. He then becomes a sponsor for many Cambodian immigrants to come to the U.S. to work in his business and, in some cases, start their own businesses.

The story is not just a success story. “Uncle Ted” succumbs to the temptations of success in America, including developing an addiction to gambling. The hard-working entrepreneurs supported by the Donut King thrive. It’s a great story and one well worth retelling. Plus, it is instructive and comforting to watch clips of President Ford extolling the virtues of immigration and making the case that immigration has been instrumental to America’s accomplishments.


Watching The Donut King and the immigration success story of the Cambodian refugees reminded me of the immigrant story told in the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This book is described by the Washington Post reviewer as, “a cerebral thriller around a desperate expat story that confronts the existential dilemmas of our age…”

This book is an extraordinary story about three refugees from the war—and the story of Vietnamese refugees in Orange County (the same place that welcomed so many of the Cambodian refugees) who longed to return to Vietnam. While much of the story takes place in the expat community and deals with the wounds from the war, its picture of this vibrant, successful group of immigrants—in this case a class of immigrants we helped create—is moving.


And while talking about immigrants, another great book is The Parking Lot Attendant, by Nafkote Tamirat. It is the story of an Ethiopian girl who is a good student raised in a single-parent home, who is befriended by a parking lot attendant, who is a fellow Ethiopian refugee. She begins to learn through him about her Ethiopian roots, the tough world of immigrants, and political action and extremism in that community.


There are interesting people just like you and I who came here, some seeking opportunity, some by necessity, some seeking asylum. Contrary to the simple headlines or the rantings of the nativists, they are just like prior generations of immigrants, including many of our ancestors—hard working, believers in the American dream, struggling to succeed. Some succeed, some do not, some follow the straight and narrow, some fail. But they are all Americans.

The answer to yesterday’s trivia question, both Ringo Starr and George Carlin played the role of The Conductor in the Thomas the Tank Engine series. The kids who had the good fortune to grow up watching Thomas and his friends had the benefit of two quirky, brilliant, characters--a somewhat subversive treat for parents also watching!

Best regards,


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