My father called me bright and very early this morning to tell me that Senator Kennedy had died.
For my father, like so many of his generation, the Kennedy family has embodied so many American dreams and nightmares. When I was a child just starting school, both my parents talked so frequently of Pres. John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the moment they learned of his death, their horrified reactions, their tears, that I had no idea it had occurred a decade earlier. It seemed to me they were discussing a recent event, like my Ye-ye’s second heart attack, my maternal grandfather’s trip to the hospital. I assumed we must be related, the Kennedys and our family. Why else did my parents talk about them so much and so passionately?
This morning my father’s voice sounded ragged around the edges, heavy, the opposite of his usual excited manner of shouting into the phone to me. The death of Senator Kennedy meant the last link to that time of great hope and great despair that he and my mother had shared together, when the Civil Rights Movement made it possible for their interracial marriage to be recognized in all 50 states, when the Kennedy brothers campaigned on hope, when my parents prayed for the end to the terrible war in Vietnam. The deaths of JFK, MLK, RFK hurt them deeply.
I don’t think I fully understood what my parents had meant about the excitement and hope they had felt when JFK was elected president until I experienced the same emotions during President Obama’s campaign for the presidency.
My father later called me back. He’d gone searching through his files and found a letter that Senator Edward Kennedy had sent to him when my father was a young poly-sci professor at the University of Redlands. My father now exclaimed excitedly, “Kennedy agreed with me about China! He wanted better relations! He knew China and the U.S. should have close ties!” (When my father is excited, all of his declarations end in exclamation points.)
He read one paragraph of the letter to me: “As your correspondence indicates, we share many views in common on the need for the United States to explore ways to improve our relations with China. I feel very strongly that it is the United States who must take the first step to end the present impasse in these relations. We should abandon our current futile policy of diplomatic, political, and economic isolation of the mainland and begin to move now toward a policy that seeks to bring China into the international community. Only through such action can we realistically hope to ensure future peace for Asia and the world.”
The letter was dated May 6, 1969. Senator Ted Kennedy was ahead of his times in his thinking, then as now.
My father then faxed the letter to me and said he was going to bring it to his class today on China to show his students.
I scanned the letter into a pdf copy because I thought it was historically interesting to read Sen. Kennedy’s prescient thinking on U.S.-China relations, views shared by my father. In 1969, many American politicians saw China as The Enemy, a Communist state that could never change, that was hellbent on spreading Communism through the world (the domino theory). History has proven such short-sightedness wrong.
To read the full text of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s letter to my father, please click here: Ltr-Senator-Ted-Kennedy-to-Prof-Winberg-Chai