Former President George W. Bush tells the stories of dozens of immigrants and includes a painting of each one in a new book that should be on people’s shelves for its beauty and storytelling. While his talent for painting is notable, it is the heart the former president displays for his subjects that stands out in the book Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants. Through his portraits and stories, Bush tells the reader that America is not for only one type of person but should be open, as Ronald Reagan once said, to “anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Among those with “the will and the heart to get here” highlighted in the book is Paula Rendon, an immigrant from Mexico who came to work for the Bush family. “I didn’t realize at the time what a life-changing moment it would be for me, Paula, or our families,” writes Bush, describing the rainy night a small woman with a suitcase came to his family’s house when he was 13 years old in 1959. “Over the next six decades, Paula became an integral part of our family. She was like a second mother to my siblings and me. The first immigrant I really knew showed me how hardworking, family-oriented newcomers add to the cultural fabric, economic strength and patriotic spirit of America.”
The book includes portraits—both painted and written—of nearly four dozen immigrants from 35 different countries. Among them are many famous immigrants, including former secretaries of state Madeline Albright and Henry Kissinger, basketball star Dirk Nowitzki, golfer Annika Sörenstam, movie star and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former head of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi. (Note: I worked in the Bush administration as head of policy and counselor to the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.)
The book’s charm is mixing in the famous with those who have lived extraordinary lives but might be unknown to most Americans. Bush describes the harrowing journey of Bob Fu, a Christian minister who escaped arrest in China and was accepted as a refugee to America “only three days before Hong Kong was returned to China.”
Thear Suzuki was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “Thear’s family of seven managed to survive the genocide, which took place on sites across Cambodia now known as the Killing Fields,” writes Bush. “They worked in forced labor camps and lived in the jungle for years before escaping to a Thailand refugee camp in 1979.”
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At 14, Alfredo Duarte crossed the Rio Grande into America to support his family. “There was a moment I thought we were all going to die, but we finally made it to the other side of the river, where we ducked and crawled,” said Duarte. He worked many jobs and sent money back to his parents. In 1985, he became a lawful permanent resident and partnered with his brother-in-law to start Taxco Produce, a food distributor that employs 120 people in the United States.
While the book is not political, it is difficult not to compare the vision of humanity and compassion George W. Bush expresses for his subjects with the animosity Donald Trump’s has often exhibited toward immigrants.
While Bush praises the heroism of refugees, Trump gave speeches during the 2020 campaign that boasted of cuts to refugee admissions and warned an entire state could get turned into a refugee camp. Bush writes about the family values and work ethic of Mexican immigrants, while Trump said many Mexicans were rapists who would commit crimes against Americans.
These are the two most recent Republican presidents, yet their views of their fellow human beings, fellow Americans, are so different.
“It depends on where you start your philosophy from,” said Bush in remarks at an event sponsored by the Bush Center and the National Immigration Forum. “I started mine from ‘all life is precious’ and ‘we’re all God’s children’ . . . If that’s how you view immigration, then you don’t view people with a hostile eye. You view them with a loving eye. . . . A loving eye means treating people with respect.”
In his essay on Paula Rendon, the woman who helped raise him, Bush concludes: “Sadly, Paula died in February 2020 at the age of 97, shortly after I finished painting her. Four generations of Mexican-American family members attended her funeral. On that day, Elysia Ramirez, one of her 36 great-great-grandchildren, gave a touching eulogy.”
“We learned a lot from Paula,” writes Bush. “She taught us what it means to work hard. She taught us what it means to sacrifice for family. And she taught us to be grateful to immigrants, who keep the American dream alive by realizing it and passing it along to new generations of diligent, determined United States citizens.”