All posts by tkotran59

Hello! I'm just a wannabe stay at home dad with interests in traveling, international development, social justice, sports, cooking, yoga, guitar, and music. I'm currently a Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Colombia.

Where Do We Go Back To?

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”. Or put more simply, “send them back” and “go back to your own country”.

It’s a rhetoric that’s dangerous, poisonous, toxic, and has infested everyday society. Day after the day, the gap widens between people of different viewpoints about topics such as immigration, health care, and essential policy. There’s a sense of “us vs them” in the air that we breathe and the actions that we take.

This one hits a little bit harder to home. As a first-generation Vietnamese-American, this rhetoric is something that I’ve experienced multiple times in my life. I’m sure similar to many children with immigrant parents, a focus on English is created in the household and a loss of the foreign language and culture is embedded into the minds of youths since childhood. Yet this results in a strange predicament, the children of immigrants have been “whitewashed” by American society and can’t ever fit back into the cultures in which their parents came from, but yet they’re “too ethnic” for the American society that refuses to accept them.

Many of these immigrants have citizenship and the cause for their ancestors no longer residing in their country of ethnicity varies; there’s economic problems, war, famine, among many others. For most, it’s the pursuit of the American dream that drives people to come to the land of opportunity. Think about it for a second, what push would you need in order to leave everything you’ve ever known and loved, to be forced to learn another language, adapt to a new culture, and struggle through all the growing pains these changes come with. Our nation’s history with immigrants has been mixed, while we pride ourselves for being a country of diversity, one unlike what anywhere else in the world has to offer, we often marginalize and criminalize those who differ from the norm.  At first it was the WASP (White Anglo-Saxan Protestants) in power, using their power to create advertisements and rhetoric such as “Irish need not apply”, this then shifts to the Japanese-American internment camps, and now current day, the rise of domestic terrorism in correlation to immigration, but via homegrown terrorism against said immigrants. You can read more about that here.

Throughout my time in college, and even post, I’ve been deeply entwined with the concepts of immigration, migration, refugees, and the concepts of life in America as someone who seemingly represents everything that the nation stands to represent. A fresh start, an ability to use your talents and gifts to contribute to this harmonious society where all cultures blend, mix, and fuse to create what we call America. Must we forget our heritage and how our nation started out? We were founded by people who stood for religious freedom, people who were segregated for various reasons found a place of asylum, this pinnacle of freedom. There’s a certain sense of blissful and selective ignorance that comes from this, with chants and claims of sending people back while standing on grounds which were not originally ours.

This land is your land, this land is my land. As a proud American citizen, I want to use this right to speak up about these injustices, not because I dislike this country, but because I want to make it better. To create policy, to create a more inclusive America, and exercise my right to freedom of speech. We can simultaneously love something and also have the ability to critique and want to make it better. After all, isn’t that the true American way?


The Selective Perception of Patriotism

I know this post arrives a tad late after July 4th, and it would’ve been just a little bit more powerful if it came out the day of, but there’s a lot I want to get off my chest about our concept of patriotism and how it needs to be a tad more nuanced than it currently is. Let me explain.

Patriotism is a concept that I think about pretty often, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means “the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country”. Yet in modern day society, there’s lack of room for nuance in our arguments. We see patriotism in action everyday, with traditional examples being wearing the classic old navy American flag shirt while we shoot fireworks up in the sky, snacking on BBQ foods and tossing a football in the backyard. Other definitions of patriotism exist as well, can we support our country while stating that there are things wrong with it that should change? Recent examples of this being movements such as Black Lives Matter, that has been quickly countered by Blue Lives Matter. The concept of kneeling for the anthem has been challenged recently, and a battle over free speech and hate speech has recently taken the media by storm. On Twitter (arguably the most vocal social media of our age), we see people like Megan Rapinoe, Colin Kaepernick, and even Qasim Rahid be given an incredible voice, and at times they are quickly shut down.

What I define as selective perception is the process where people choose to omit certain aspects of an argument or viewpoint based on their own prior biases or beliefs. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum. One can be pro black lives matter and blue lives matter. A person can be morally pro-life, yet vote pro-choice. The world and our beliefs are not black and white. The ideology of selective perception, in my opinion, stems from the rise of identity politics. It’s seeped into our culture and at times, it feels as if we no longer have a sense of tolerance or patience for the other side of the aisle. Of all places, we see this on Tinder profiles in the form of “don’t swipe if you’re a snowflake” or “swipe left if you voted for Trump”. Part of a debate and a discussion is to realize where we disagree and find the common ground on which we stand upon. A nation known as the United States seems to be ununited and splitting at the seams.

Why does this matter? In modern events, we view things on a black or white spectrum. The media, our own bubbles that we have created don’t allow for debate and discussion, but a “you are wrong, and I am right” mentality. The very idea and concept of patriotism has become subjective. We arrive at difficult questions that even though precedence has decided these before, we treat them on a case by case basis depending on our political ideology. Should Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe’s free speech be allowed? Then why not someone like Alex Jones or Tomi Lahren? On one hand, the athletes are representing their right to assembly and right to free speech, yet they are disrespecting the flag in the eyes of a few. Alex Jones and Tomi Lahren are also using their right to use media how they wish and display their thoughts in a public forum. The difference here lies in the aftermath; if someone’s speech incites violence or hatred, at that point is it still patriotism? These questions are tough, and at times don’t have a perfect answer. Maybe this writing piece doesn’t bring us anywhere closer. But at the very least, we should open our ears and listen to each other. We have more in common with each other than we believe, after all, we all love our country, just in different ways.

Languages of Love In The Time of Unrest

Love, Amor, Yêu , Leibe.

What do all of these have in common?

They are displays of emotion. Care. Comforting.

It is natural for us as human beings to want to find it.

To be entrapped by it, surrounded by it’s warmth, yet the pursuit of it scares us to death.

The words themselves in question are able to bring anxiety, great pride, or even create a bridge towards a beautiful tomorrow. However, the power of love doesn’t truly come in the form of the words themselves. Actions speak louder than words.

As a young man who’s had the incredible privilege to travel to many different countries, I get to see how truly amazing and loving people are.

Actions of love transcend any barrier of language. Each country I’ve gone to has taken me in with open arms, whether or not I look like a local or the prized foreigner.

All across the world, people are warm, caring, charming. As simplified by the phrase “A La Orden” in Coastal Colombia. It translates to, at your service. I don’t want to go in depth into each of my experiences, but just to summarize, each country shares their best selves with the visitor, always caring and ensuring that you are having a great time, if you are comfortable, you are at home.

Back home at Merrimack, it was the smallest gestures of kindness during the cold winter days or blistering summer days, a random meal swipe by a classmate who’s name you don’t remember, a door being held open by someone you’ve never met, the long car rides to and from the pitch darkness of I-95, the deep talks over card games, and the tears shared over solidarity in weakness.

In Ireland, it was on a random night. We had a classmate who wandered off, and with the help of a security guard from our favorite bar, were able to find the classmate in a country in which we just arrived into.

In Nicaragua, it was the comfort of sharing a meal with the hosts which took us in at Mustard Seed Community and the love of the children who had nothing but smiles and hugs to offer to us outsiders.

In Vietnam, it’s the constant hospitality and efforts to speak English when people do not understand Vietnamese, the constant need to help and go give 110% despite not even knowing your name.

And now here in Colombia, every person on the street will offer to help you, each person on the street will greet you, ask you how you are, and finally, offer their home to you as a shelter during a storm or a hot day.

Love, in all forms, is something that is missing in today’s world. We cherish it so deeply, and share it and make it seem almighty and powerful, display it on full blast via our news sources, as a silver lining in what seems like a never ending storm. After hours and hours of news of war, hunger, poverty, hatred, there’s always a small snippet of people doing good, people loving each other. As if this sliver of hope is supposed to let us carry on until the next time we are fed this great news.

As the Beatles once sang, “All You Need Is Love”, while that might not be entirely true, it is a step towards a better world, one in which we can create stronger relationships and allow ourselves to define our humanity by what brings us together, rather what divides While there is still hate in our world, love has the ability to prevail. Sure, this doesn’t really help people’s perception of me as a “flower child” and a person who is naive. But I would rather be naive than cold and jaded. I find comfort in believing in a cup half full rather than convincing myself that the cup is half empty.

There’s a great childhood story about “Warm and Fuzzies” that is incredibly near and dear to my heart. It revolves around the theme of people being scared to love, scared to give themselves to others without reservation. Love costs nothing, but can be priceless to others going through a hard time. Any small action could create a ripple effect, to become a ray of sunshine on someone’s cloudy day, to inspire, to give hope. Love doesn’t have to be romantic. It’s innate in all of us, we were born to love, yet taught to be cautious and nervous. With many things, rather than to let society and media mold us and take away what makes us so special, let’s take it back into our hands. Let’s care for one another, love, and do what we can for our fellow brothers and sisters.

This Valentine’s day, maybe for us not being involved in romantic love, maybe we can start to learn the greatest love of all, the love for our fellow human, and learn to love them as we hopefully love ourselves.

Boston Medios Rojas: To Be Proud of My City from Afar

“Medios Rojas Gano!!!”

I was walking through the streets with my Boston Celtics hat and every person would talk to me about the beauty of the “Medios Rojas” and how they won the World Series.

Each time, I couldn’t help but smile. Even this far away, I still keep this as a small piece of home. I streamed each game through Facebook, random apps, or if I got lucky, there’d be a good stream on Reddit available that day.

Boston is a city of winners. There’s a big fan base of Basketball and Baseball here in Colombia, and Football is growing as well. The names of our stars, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, David Ortiz, Tom Brady, Kyrie Irving, Mookie Betts. They’re all recognizable here.

Whenever I introduce myself to people, and tell them that I went to college relatively close to Boston, they can’t help but wow in awe. At times, it makes me respect the place where I spent a lot of my formative years a little bit more. I spend hours on end talking about the T, dysfunctionality and all, it is still an amazing form of transportation. Late nights spent at Insomnia Cookies, the rush of energy flowing out of TD Garden, the sites and sounds just walking through the city. Watching the duckboats go by, passing the time away at the aquarium or abandoning your friends at the Museum of Science a little bit after midnight. Having a heart to heart in the parking lot of Tasty Burger. These are the memories that I cherish about Boston as well.

As big and famous as it is, I think Boston has a special niche to it that will always make it feel like home. It’s never too big to feel lost, but never too small. Congratulations Sox. Boston, you’ll always have a place in my heart. Until the next time we meet.

Music: The Universal Beats of the Heart

The Heart. It beats somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute for an adult over the age of 18. We all have one, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion, etc.

But why is this important?

We can’t always listen to what our heart is saying. That is where I believe that music comes in.

Music is a form of art that is not only able to be listened to, but comprehends and speaks to the heart, mind, and soul of a person. It simultaneously can uplift, motivate, help grieve, and at times is a reflection of who we are at our best and at our worst. Music therapy is also a growing field, which helps to prove how beneficial music is.

According to a study by Harvard Medical School, listening to music has a lot of health benefits such as improving exercise ability, easing stress, and help blood pressure levels as well as heart rate return to baseline quicker than when compared to studies where there is no music present.

Everything we do in life has a beat, a rhythm, as the keyboard clicks away, the fan spins away in the background, or the tires spin on the old Honda Accord. We’re surrounded by sound. Surrounded by music. All of us enjoy different sounds, reflective of who we are and who we want to be. Music isn’t just a part of life that we can enjoy, it’s with us every step of the way.

Study Here:

To Be, or Not To Be American.

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

To be, or not to be American. What does it all mean at the end of the day. To be American means to have the right to free speech, to bear arms, to practice religion without fear of persecution, to vote for what we believe in, but to believe in freedom and equality. This country was founded on the ideals of greatness, to lift ourselves up by our bootstraps and create something out of an opportunity. The rhetoric that is being spread throughout this country has been more toxic and more divisive than ever before. As an outspoken person, I usually have a lot to say, and have had a lot to say via Twitter, but never in a formalized format such as this.

Now, it’s personal.

I’m Kenney Tran. A child of two Vietnamese-American (now) citizens. I was born here, in America, with a passport, social security number, and a college education. I’m currently serving in the Peace Corps, another privilege that American citizens have. Yet despite all of this, my own citizenship is under attack. I get it, I’ve traveled a lot. But does that mean I should not be considered a person of my own country?

The concept of birth right citizenship isn’t unique to America, contrary to what our President has been saying, as a matter of fact, there’s a beautiful list.

Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

I was brought up as a Vietnamese-American, being taught about both cultures, playing a beautiful game of balance, learning about both and taking parts of each and molding my own individual identity. I meditate and reflect a lot on my days and how my actions impact others, a trait of the Buddhist-Centric culture of Vietnam, but also have a tendency to be wild and spontaneous based off of the Extroverted-favoring nature of the United States. I consider myself to constantly be a person under construction, as a learn more about the world, I learn more about myself as well.

My parents fled warfare, a corrupt regime that refused to let people speak out about things that were happening and how they really felt. They left a country that was not accepting of ideas. So here we are, in America. The golden land, the country that is held to the golden standard of the world. So what did it mean to be American?

To be American meant to be kind, to be welcoming with open arms, to help others, to love for our neighbors and our fellow citizens in our great melting pot. It never had to do with whether or not someone was born here, where they come from or where they are going, the color of their skin, or their religion. Yet here we stand, in a country more divided than other. Watching this country from the outside, I can almost visualize it tearing apart at the seams.

I have people ask, or rather tell me, that I don’t understand the other side of the argument. That I’m biased. That my view is skewed. I’ll acknowledge that truth, but I can also admit that I’m a little bit more of an expert than at first glance, I majored in Political Science and took many classes on Political Theory as well as the Politics of Immigration. I would now like to invite you to read a couple essays I wrote on refugees and immigration for you to better understand a few concepts, most being that immigrants actually IMPROVE the GDP of a host country while also shutting down Trump’s claim on Sanctuary Cities.



I understand that from a different point of view, having an undocumented couple with a child born in the United States creates a situation where more often than not, the couple will get to stay with their American child. This brings up the argument on the right side of the aisle, with opponents saying that this would take jobs away, and it’s a quick and simple path to citizenship. Need we go back down history road to remember that we are ALL immigrants? Needless to say, the people who end up becoming parents of an American child will almost definitely be finding jobs, learning English, and contributing and becoming a part of a beautiful American society as well. It sounds just a tad better than the colonial days of forced westward expansion, slavery, and how manifest destiny created a power complex where we forget our own history and refuse to open up doors that were previously available to us.

As a citizen (for now) , of the most influential country on Earth, I would like to end with a few remarks. We are a country that should be building bridges rather than walls. With the rise of alt-right groups, hate crimes, and overall intolerance of civil discussions, it’s difficult to remember that underneath all of this, every person on Earth has a potential to be an American. To be an American citizen is not about a piece of paper or where we are born. For the longest time, it was about character. The person that we are. The person that we could be and have the potential to be. To use the rights given to use by the government in place to better ourselves, and in my case right now, using my first amendment right to express my mind… at least, while I still can.

“I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don’t know why he chose to write it, but I’m glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. But he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.” – Ronald Reagan.

Are You Just Alive? Or Truly Living?

It’s strange isn’t it.

We’re in the age and time where we can view the lives of other people around the world at the click of a button. We often end up comparing ourselves to the lives of others. Yet through the lens of social media, we see the peaks, yet never the peaks.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be studying abroad right now? Traveling the world? Going on vacation in the Bahamas? But what about how insane Merrimack College Homecoming seemed like it was in a monsoon? And at times, what if I got an actual adult job and could afford an apartment with my friends?

But what about the other side of this same coin. We never see the struggles that come with these great moments. In the same beat as studying abroad, what about how hard it is to integrate into a new culture and also learn a new language at the same time. What if you missed your flight between countries and was stuck in the airport all day. We never consider how many hours of work is put in before we can afford a great vacation in the Bahamas. And at long last, the stress of school and then the daily grind wears away at the human soul.

But why do I bring this up? Isn’t this all about living and feeling alive? Yes, yes it is. Take pride in the small things we do everyday.

Step back. Look at the big picture. Own the process. Stop skating through the motions at half speed, but rather chase the things that set your soul on fire. Never stop growing. The difference between just living and feeling alive is a state of mind. Are we simply drones becoming one and the same? Or will we rise and become the great people we were meant to be.

Are we just human, or are we dancer? Let’s dance each day away in this beautiful life.

The Art of The Bubble: A 21st Century Dilemma.

“Let’s agree to disagree”.

Sure, we’ve all heard it before, but have we heard this phrase been used recently? We live in an era where we can choose to curate the media to our tastes and preferences. This is complimented by intricate Facebook posts that can either begin or end with “Feel free to unfriend me if you disagree.”

What this results in, is a world where we are now surrounding ourselves with only like minded people, and a refusal to hear out the voices of the other side. Maybe these words are hardest to hear, especially in a volatile and polarized political climate where everything truly is black or white, red or blue, right or wrong. In order to better support your argument, one should be able to defend it against the opposition. Or at least, that was the intention of debate anyways.

Freedom of speech, to debate and discuss issues that are controversial is what the cornerstone of democracy is truly all about. If you take away the ability to have two sides of an argument, there is only right and wrong. A quote from the philosopher; Nietzsche, “You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”  Each one of us is entitled to an opinion, and that opinion is shaped by our morals, ethics, values, worldview, and the pasts that have shaped us into who we are. How are we supposed to judge someone’s opinion before understanding why they believe what they do?

At the end of the day, I believe the best thing to do is to open ourselves up to new viewpoints. Maybe we should engage an a conversation, open up the news article on CNN/NBC/Fox News. Ask ourselves why or why not we disagree with it. One day, this will shift the conversation from WHAT we believe into WHY we believe what we do. Maybe, just maybe, through the power of a conversation, a mutual understanding will be reached or even possibly someone will see the world in a different light.

In a generation of limitless power and capability in our pockets, isn’t it ironic that we use it to access less rather than more? Better yet, let’s put the phones down and pass over the small talk. For once, maybe we can learn from each other.