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tv   Matter of Fact With Soledad O Brien  NBC  December 19, 2021 5:00am-5:30am PST

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>> i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america. soledad: let's start at the beginning. >> and to the republic, for which it stands. >> we live in a great country. soledad: we are going to the root of the challenge we face. >> one nation, under god. >> i am a second-class citizen. >> you have got to defend it. >> it is not about the military. soledad: we are going to listen, even when the talk turns uncomfortable. >> until black lives matter, not all lives are mattering. soledad: we are going to take in the opinions of others, aim for a better understanding of the viewpoints of others. >> don't tell me i have to live
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my life like you. >> you have this history here. >> indivisible. >> the flag. >> but the country does not love you back. >> with liberty and justice for all. soledad: i'm soledad o'brien. welcome to "matter of fact." the american flag is a potent symbol that triggers strong feelings. it evokes everything from pride to protest, duty to disillusionment, allegiance to agony. this show explores all of it as we try to understand more clearly what it means to be an american. our nation is becoming irreversibly diverse. but does that also mean we're also irreversibly divided? our special correspondent jessica gomez set off on a road trip across the middle of the country on i-70, from denver to st. louis, to find out what people feel about their american identity. >> ♪ jessica: we started our journey in denver, colorado, where the snow was melting under the shadows of the rocky mountains.
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[crack of a baseball bat] almost time for baseball season. we met laura heshmati picking up her son at practice. laura heshmati: are you tired? >> yeah. jessica: they invited us home for dinner, where we learned this american family is made up of a multitude of cultures. laura heshmati: heshmati is a persian last name. my husband is half persian, half mexican. i am mexican american. >> thank you for this food. amen. >> amen. laura heshmati: we're talking about what it feels like to be an american. dad: the thought process is when you say america is a melting pot, it actually devalues the different cultures that do make up america. and that the salad bowl analogy is better. naveed: like, you are a tomato and you are a piece of lettuce, but you can still be friends, like something like that. jessica: and with that, we set out to learn where others see themselves in this salad bowl
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that is america. alejandro flores-munez: by me stepping in this country and walking freely in this country, i am american. jessica: on the way out of town, we popped in on alejandro flores-munoz, a gay, undocumented mexican immigrant. alejandro flores-munez: we make it almost like a masa, and then we put it inside the taco. jessica: the daca recipient, whose mother brought him to the u.s. as a little boy, is now opening one of denver's first cloud kitchens for online delivery only. his business, he says, makes him feel american. alejandro flores-munez: i want to now be in a position to show case that i am paying taxes, that i am employing people, that i am building a company. i don't think words will showcase as much as action. ♪ jessica: from colorado to kansas.
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tristan frump: it used to be, like, america was the land of opportunity, but now it feels like it is a struggle. jessica: we stopped in hays, with its wild west roots, more than two dozen christian churches, and a lot of red, white, and blue. tristan frump: it's hard to get the job, the career that you want. because once you fall down a well, it's really hard to climb out. jessica: tristan frump, in between manufacturing jobs. a rough childhood, he says, got in the way of his american dream of owning a car repair shop. tristan frump: in my life, it's always been like that. it's like you're a certain class of person. and when people put you down, or put you in that label, it's really hard to imagine how your life could really be, because
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everyone is telling you you can't. it's like, it just, like, it kills your confidence. it kills the dream. announcer: when we come back, our road trip across america continues. arrow levier: i feel as most americans view us as if we are poor or dirty, or they don't even know that we are still alive. announcer: with a stop on the prairie band potawatomi nation reservation. and later, who built america? russell low: without those and later, who built america? russell low: without those 16,000 why hide your skin if dupixent has your moderate-to-severe eczema, or atopic dermatitis under control? hide our skin? not us. because dupixent targets a root cause of eczema, it helps heal your skin from within, keeping you one step ahead of it. and for kids ages 6 and up, that means clearer skin, and noticeably less itch. hide my skin? not me. by helping to control eczema with dupixent, you can change how their skin looks and feels. and that's the kind of change you notice.
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americans view us as if we are poth don't even know that we are still alive. jessica: on the prairie band potawatomi nation reservation, we happened upon this young family, just starting out. arrow levier: to me, being an american is to practice your
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ceremonies and religion and languages. [speaking his native american language] that means i am potawatomi. my indian name means big wolf, i am thunder clan, and my color is blue. jessica: they tell me they're living the american dream here on the reservation. but for mom rosanna, it's complicated. rosanna: as a woman, i am kind of, like, not equal. as a native american, i am not equal. if i were a white woman, i think i would have it easier. a lot of things would be easier. i think i would be heard more. ♪ >> it means being heard. being able to express yourself and be authentic. jessica: onto kansas city, missouri, as the sun set over the jazz district, we caught up with singer jamie chase. [singing]
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jessica: her stage name, j love. jamie chase: music is my expression. it's my love. it's my heart. jessica: we asked, does she feel a sense of belonging? jamie chase: musically, yes. but in my everyday life, no. you know, because when i am in the grocery store, everybody doesn't know that i am j love. you know what i'm saying? i don't look the same. i got my hat on. i am just another black person. and i still have p sometimes i am not nice about it. sometimes i'm like, "hey, did you know it's probably not me that's stealing?!" jessica: the mother of two young black men, she wrote a song called "black lives matter." jamie chase: right now, i just -- i don't -- i am fearful every time my kids leave out the door. i am fearful. "where are you going and who are you going with?"
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♪ come home ♪ some of my white friends will say, "no, this is not happening" or "come on, it's not that bad." this just hurts me to the core, when my white friends say, "you know, you just need to stop talking about it. you just talk about it too much." ♪ kevin mclaughlin: it doesn't feel like there's a lot of compromise, because we don't spend time to understand the other perspectives. jessica: from kansas city to st. spending 31 years in theetired military and deploying six times, i feel most american when i am not in america and seeing how other countries and other cultures live. it really makes you appreciate what you have. jessica: mclaughlin, who led the missing man formation as president george h.w. bush was laid to rest, says his years in
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the military taught him the value of all that makes up this country. kevin mclaughlin: the whole is much greater than the pieces that put it all together. ♪ jeffrey blair: things that would happen to me sometimes, i would normalize it and say, "oh, well, that's just america," you know. but when you see your children, you're like, "oh, no, we've got to stop this." jessica: our final stop, this african-american children's bookstore, also outside of st. louis. jeffrey blair: i can travel through time, all through a book, and i can see myself in that. jessica: i.t. manager and former attorney jeffrey blair and his wife pamela opened "eyeseeme" five years ago, inspired by what their children, now in college, were missing. jeffrey blair: there are times in my life, times in my children's lives where there have been incidents that would take place that would have us question whether america values us.
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are we full citizens really, or are we here just as bystanders? this is one of my favorite books. it is called "the undefeated." "this is for the unforgettable. the swift and sweet ones. the ones who hurtle history and open a world of possibilities." i think one of the things is the possibility going forward, the possibility of hope and possibility of change. i think the idea of expanding the notion of freedom and who it applies to, to be the collective and not just the few, that that is what can give greatness to the ideals of what america supposedly stands for. jessica: along i-70, i am jessica gomez. ♪ announcer: when we come back, how the building of the transcontinental railroad changed america. russell low: it linked us physically, emotionally, financially for the very first time ever. announcer: and later, pulitzer prize winner nikole hannah-jones on her father's america. nikole: my father was like
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generations of black people who believed that service to their country was how they could finally get treated and recognized as full citizens.
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it includes free preventive care, like cholesterol and blood-pressure checkups. because even though they grow up, they'll always be your baby. covered california. this way to health insurance. enroll by december 31st at coveredca.com. soledad: the debate over who is and who gets to be a citizen is -- an american citizen is as old as the nation itself. photos bear witness to the painful struggles of african americans, indigenous peoples, and immigrant groups seeking to belong.
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they also bear witness to their enslaved african americans who built our monuments to democracy. iron workers from the six nations of the iroquois raised and riveted the beams of new york's iconic buildings. perhaps the building of the transcontinental railroad represents one of the most important contributions of immigrants. their story is told by special correspondent ray suarez. ♪ ray suarez: as the civil war moved to its end, two massive construction projects picked up speed. [train whistle] immigrants and discharged soldiers headed west, laying track across the plains, starting in iowa, while a workforce of largely chinese immigrants laid track eastbound from sacramento across the sierra mountains. [train whistle] ♪ the 1900-mile route connected western pastures to midwestern stockyards and great plains
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farms to great lakes mills. but when the tracks were finally joined on may 10, 1869, here, in promontory point, utah, a closer look shows not one chinese worker in the historic photograph, out of more than 16,000. russell low told me he didn't grow up knowing about his family's connection to this great 19th-century drama. russell low: in fact, a lot of the story of my great grandparents wasn't known. this is 150 years ago. ray suarez: a great uncle was celebrating his 100th birthday. russell low: my sister walked up to him with her video camera running, and she says, "tell me about your father, uncle kim." and he proceeded to break into a lecture, at 100, unrehearsed, about the transcontinental railroad. at the end, he said they got a lot of chinese to come over here , and amongst them was my father and my uncle. ray suarez: digging into his family history, low found this photo -- his great grandfather,
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the railroad worker, in 1903. many died, manli through mountains and building bridges spanning great valleys. once the railroad was built, these workers found their welcome from their new country. russell low: 1882, they passed this infamous chinese exclusion act. if you were here, you could never become a citizen. the most offending thing for many of these chinese was that they had been here for decades, and they could never, ever vote, could not become a citizen. and in addition, if they ever left this country, you could never come back. and what that did was it separated families, not for a couple of weeks or a couple months, but for hundreds of years. ray suarez: and the chinese exclusion act hung on until world war ii. would you like to see the way we
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teach history changed, so that the story is a fuller story to answer that question, "who built america?" russell low: that railroad they built truly changed this nation. without those 16,000 chinese workers, it would not have happened. it linked us physically, emotionally, financially for the very first time ever. and it had tremendous impact, that we went from being able to take a cross-country trip of six months in a wagon train to just, you know, six days. that's phenomenal. ray suarez: i'm ray suarez. announcer: coming up, the founder of "the new york times" 1619 project, nikole hannah-jones. nikole: people seem to forget black americans were fighting in wars to democratize other countries and then coming home and facing brutal suppression of their own democratic rights. announcer: and later, meet the man who came to this country as a child, and now, 40 years later, is still living undocumented in the only country he h
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soledad: i want to read you a
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passage of an essay printed in the "new york times magazine," a story of a young black girl growing up on the black side of an iowa town. "at the edge of our lawn, high on an aluminum pole, soared the flag, which my dad would replace as soon as it showed the slightest tatter." that little girl grew up to be a pulitzer prize winning journalist, writing about america's racial divide and issues of racial justice, in the process creating the acclaimed "new york times" 1619 project. i'm talking about nikole hannah-jones. you write about your dad flying that flag, and you talk about the duality, right, that he's in mississippi, which has this track record of terrible violence against black people, but also that he loves america. nikole: i mean, my father was like generations of black people who believed that service to their country was how they could finally get treated and recognized as full citizens. people like to trot out
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stereotypes and statistics about black people. well, black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. black people are overrepresented in out-of-wedlock births. but the one statistic that they never seem to bring out is that black people are overrepresented in service to our country, that of all racial groups, we join the military and serve in the armed forces at the highest rates. and that is what my father did as well. and i think that's where people seem to forget is black americans were fighting in wars to democratize other countries and then coming home and facing brutal suppression of their own democratic rights here. and so, that was a claim that black people made even during slavery, that you are not going to tell us we can't be citizens of our own country. you're not going to tell us that we can't claim ownership over this land. and very outwardly, he was sending that message. announcer: next on "matter of fact," he is a broadway producer and an emmy-nominated filmmaker
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soledad: these photos of border crossings along the rio grande of texas tell the continuing story of immigration. unaccompanied minors risking their lives to cross. to give voice to the undocumented, we enlisted a pulitzer prize-winning journalist, an emmy-nominated filmmaker, a tony-nominated producer. a man who grew up undocumented, who came to america as a child, and is now a leading voice for human rights for immigrants. he's the author of "dear america: notes of an undocumented citizen." jose antonio vargas. jose antonio vargas: i was doing an event in wilmington, north carolina. and after this event, i was talking to everybody. and this woman, elderly black woman, approaches me and she said, "mr. vargas." i said, "yes, ma'am."
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and she had this bag, and she pulled this piece of paper from her bag. it's really old and crumpled. and she said, "mr. vargas, my great-great-great-grandmother gave me this piece of paper." it was a bill of sale. she was a slave, her great-great-grandmother, or great-great-great-grandmother. and she said, "can you tell me the difference between this piece of paper that she got and the pieces of papers that you and your people can't seem to get? this is bigger than pieces of papers, mr. vargas," she said, "think bigger." and she's right. and when i think back to that moment, i think back to the fact that the history of this country is so complex. like, i can't talk to you about what it means to be an immigrant in this country without papers, without talking to you about, you know, black people and how
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black people in this country, who are citizens of this country, are still fighting to this day to be considered citizens. our stories are interconnected. and that elderly black woman is right. it is bigger than papers. it is bigger than laws. it's who we are as a society and who we want to be as a society. soledad: our thanks to all of our guests and all of you who watched. please join us every weekend on "matter of fact," where we always have conversations as diverse as america. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> for sure to check out our latest "matter of fact" listening tour. mrs. claus the shopping boss here to help you merry savers decorate with the best bargains ever! ross has savings on everything you need to get the party started. because who waits for shipping anymore? or guests?! i love saying yes to more merry for less at ross! the classic hollywood story. we meet the hero, the all-new nissan frontier
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merry savers find the best bargains ever! when you have the world's longest list you go to ross so you can work that budget and get those savings. i love saying yes to more merry for less at ross. happy holidays from "asian pacific america." we will hear from the diversity and health training institute, helping talented and accomplished immigrants navigating the american system. hello. hope you are having a good holiday season. i am robert handa, your host for your show here on nbc bay area and cozy tv, this is "asian pacific america."

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