"I should have learned sushi."
So says James in a rare moment of retrospection. Most days he has no time for that. He is all forward motion.
His goal is to be an architect. Now he's working in food service and mastering English.
A sushi chef makes more than what James does at the moment. He kicks himself for not learning it while working in a California restaurant in his few first months in California. "Cowleefonia" is his linguistic attempt to master everything about us, to be one of us.
To James, every syllable counts.
His real name is Trisnawan. Born in Indonesia, like many immigrants, he chose a name here that wouldn't cause Americans to entangle themselves on their own tongues.
Hannan, meanwhile, is quiet and determined – quietly determined. She is in this country because the civil war in Yemen made her home unsafe, rocked and wrecked by a bomb out on the street.
She can't believe her good fortune that her family was granted refugee status. She looks at others fleeing her homeland, and those fleeing Syria, and shudders.
A Muslim, she is alarmed to see American politicians making a person like her Public Enemy No. 1.
Sonia and Nancy are Mexican immigrants. Catalina is from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. Amanda's Chinese birth name you couldn't pronounce, but her smile and her effervescence you'd appreciate anywhere.
These faces I address every day in classes I teach. They're all upwardly bound. Their enthusiasm and fortitude are palpable. They are "America" in the definitional sense.
These are the people who made this nation what it is. These are our forefathers and foremothers. The fact that they are in their teens and 20s and arrived at airports with luggage on rollers makes them no different from those who arrived by freighter with their belongings in burlap.
I saw Sen. Ted Cruz say a few things the other day that I hope Hannan never sees. Cruz said it was "nothing more than lunacy" to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country, as President Obama has ordered, just as other western nations are doing.
Asked how these refugees would be different from his own father, who came to America fleeing Castro's Cuba, Cruz did one more exceptional impersonation of his doppelganger, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He used the most heinous generalizations possible.
It's one thing to allow in refugees, Cruz said; it's another to allow in members of a "theocratic and political movement" -- he described that as radical Islam -- "that promotes murdering anyone who doesn't share your faith."
Well, sure, Senator, none of us want that kind of person. But the screening process for refugees post-9/11 is, let's say,1,000 percent more rigorous than that used to admit your father.
So, that process in place, Americans should say: Let them in. They're our kind of people.
Writing about Europe's refugee crisis, Time magazine assistant managing editor Rana Foroohar interviewed Oxford University's Ian Goldin, co-author of "Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future." Goldin calls migrants "a disproportionately dynamic labor force" in the world.
Goldin adds, writes Foroohar, that "the bravery of immigrants has its own sort of economic value."
This is not an insight that this nation, a nation of transplants, should ever need to learn or relearn. It is no historian's footnote. It is the whole story.
I have yet to ask James what his religion is, but taking a cue from Cruz, I will inquire about it should he get that sushi job, or should he come to me down the road with all the credentials he needs to design a dream home for me.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.