‘Becoming American’: Point Loma author recounts his immigrant experience on way to a life in law and politics
Point Loma resident Cary Lowe wears many hats: He is a teacher, retired lawyer, political activist and an author who worked with politicians such as Robert Kennedy, George McGovern, Jerry Brown and Tom Hayden, to name a few.
Born in Austria just after World War II to Holocaust survivors, Lowe immigrated to the United States with his family as a teenager and became actively engaged in American society.
In his new book, “Becoming American,” released in October by Black Rose Writing, Lowe shines a light on the immigrant experience in the United States.
Lowe spoke over the phone Jan. 6, the day that supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in a violent protest of his election defeat in November. Lowe said his book is particularly timely now, when immigration is a hot-button topic, and especially in light of that day’s events, because the book speaks to the larger concept of what it really means to be an American.
“It’s very sad,” he said. “I’m very distressed at what I’m seeing and reading in the news. I have been so dismayed over events since the election and this whole mass movement of people who are willing to essentially throw away the basic elements of American democracy just because they didn’t get their way. It’s astonishing. It is reminiscent in very scary ways of what we saw in Europe leading up to World War II. I don’t mean to equate that, I’m not saying it’s the same, but it’s uncomfortably similar and that’s very distressing to me because in my lifetime, we have not seen anything like that in this country.”
Lowe’s father was a refugee from Vienna; his mother was from Slovakia. He grew up in different countries, bouncing from Austria to Germany and eventually to the United States. His father was a translator and an investigator during the Nuremberg trials.
His family immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s. Lowe was already fluent in English thanks to his education at American military schools. He attended high school in the Boston area, then came to California to attend college, graduate school and law school at USC. His legal career spanned 45 years, primarily as a land-use and environmental lawyer. He also has taught courses in law and urban planning at USC, UCLA and, more recently, UC San Diego.
The idea of writing a book began after a trip Lowe and his daughter took to places in Eastern Europe where his family was from. Lowe described it as a “roots trip” and recalled that, at the last minute, his aunt asked him to find a cemetery outside Prague, Czech Republic, where his paternal great-grandparents were buried.
“It became a really elaborate search, but ultimately successful,” he said. “We found the cemetery, we found the graves and we also went to a lot of other places that were significant in my family’s history. So when we came back from that trip, I was inspired to write about it, just for the family.
“I wrote a lengthy description of our trip and sent it out to all my relatives, everyone that I was in contact with. And that got me interested in writing about other things from my earlier life. After I’d written a number of individual stand-alone pieces like that, it occurred to me that this was starting to take the shape of a book and so I started writing it that way, as a series of related stories that would tell a larger story of a person and a family that immigrated and became integrated into American society and culture and eventually became very involved in American politics.”
Lowe’s book also covers experiences including a tense encounter with Russian soldiers, his service in the Navy, challenges to his citizenship, and witnessing racism and riots.
His overall message is that no matter where you come from, you can still embrace becoming American and a useful part of this country’s culture and society while not forgetting your roots. Lowe said he was particularly inspired after the 2016 national election because immigration and refugees became such loaded topics.
“I wanted [the book to] illustrate to people just how much an immigrant family could contribute to the United States and its economy, its culture, its politics, everything,” Lowe said. “That’s the nature of America. It’s a cliché, but the melting pot concept really does exist.”
Lowe said he hopes readers walk way from his book with a clear message: Immigrants should be welcomed and valued in the United States.
“I hope the message will make an impact on people,” he said. “That they will feel in ways that maybe they never did before about how important it is for the country to welcome immigrants and to allow them the opportunity to prosper here, to become part of a new larger culture and society and contribute to it in whatever way that they can.”