Dear Mr. President,
While a lot of news from your inauguration was about what the first lady wore, lost in that reporting was the fact that two of the designers your wife chose to wear during the inauguration ceremonies are immigrants!
Yes, these are young teens the U.S. welcomed to these shores years ago who have gone on to now become household names in fashion, making your point on Monday about enlisting bright, young students and engineers in our workforce, rather than expelling them from our country, as part of your immigration reform agenda even more relevant. One such bright student who came to this country and “enlisted” in the fashion industry is of course Jason Wu, who, for the second consecutive inaugural celebration, designed a ball gown for your wife, Michelle.
But while we have seen Wu on many television interviews, what has not been reported is that Wu, like so many others in the fashion industry and this country in particular, is an immigrant, born and raised in Taiwan. It wasn’t until 1997 that Wu and his parents moved to Deerfield, Mass., and his incredible sketches soon earned him a slot with Integrity Toys, where he began designing costumes and accessories for fashion dolls, making $500 a month.
To this immigrant kid, that was “a lot of Chinese takeout or pizza!” as he once told Vogue. But like every immigrant “dreamer,” Wu pushed ahead with his entrepreneurial spirit, saving that money to do dolls, and then fund his own fashion company.
By 2006, the Jason Wu label was launched, and by 2009, following the first lady’s choice to wear his gown, he has made it, becoming another real immigrant success story. Of course, the stunning red gown from Monday night, Jan. 21, has only helped the stock of Wu!
And Wu is not alone. Also lost in the inaugural coverage were the immigrant roots of designer Naeem Khan, another favorite designer of the first lady. Khan made news the day after the inauguration on Jan. 22, after Mrs. Obama wore his ivory wool-applique coat with a jeweled neckline and coordinating dress to the National Prayer Service. Khan moved from Mumbai, India, to the U.S. as a teen and apprenticed for Halston. He absorbed the secrets of draping and cutting fabric to create a clean, elegant silhouette.
By 2003, Naeem Khan, the label, was launched and began selling at Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Since then, the collection of this 54-year-old designer has grown to be sold at more than 100 specialty stores across the world. In 2008, Khan was inducted as a member of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America. Khan’s gold strapless dress for the first lady made headlines in 2009, when she wore it to the president’s first state dinner for the prime minister of India, and she has also worn his designs to dinners for White House correspondents and U.S. governors.
While Wu and Khan may be the immigrant designers of this administration, let’s not forget that Oscar de la Renta, a Dominican Republic-born designer, was the choice for both first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
All three immigrant designers represent a fraction of many immigrants in these United States who continue to make significant contributions to this country. Among the 11 million-plus undocumented are also young Wus, Khans and de la Rentas, who will go on to greatness. Isn’t it time we use these immigrants’ success stories to truly make the case for immigration reform now, so that the dreamers and those living in the shadows can truly achieve their dreams and go on to make more significant contributions to this country? Let’s quit the speeches and get a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate now!
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.