Along with some of the nation’s best-known immigrants featured in former president George W. Bush’s latest book, one in particular will be a familiar face to many San Diegans.
Kim Mitchell, who had served as president and CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego until last year, is one of 43 subjects whose stories and portraits appear in the 43rd president’s book, “Out of Many, One.”
“It’s a humbling notion that the president saw my story as one he wanted to highlight,” she said. “I’m very much honored that I’m someone he wanted to paint and whose story he wanted to tell.”
Mitchell, a Vietnamese immigrant, said she is especially humbled to be featured alongside such people as Czechoslovakian immigrant Madeleine Albright and German immigrant Henry Kissinger, both former secretaries of state, and Austrian immigrant, actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bush wrote the live stories and painted portraits of each subject, and Mitchell said she posed for about 100 photos for him to choose from for her painting.
Mitchell arrived in San Diego in 2017 to lead Veterans Village of San Diego, which provides a variety of services for veterans experiencing homelessness and other issues. She left last year for a new job in Washington, D.C., as senior vice president of military, veterans and government affairs for San Diego-based National University.
In his book, Bush wrote about how Mitchell was just six months old when her mother was killed in 1972 during a Vietcong attack on her village. An older man found her clutching her dead mother, still trying to nurse, placed her in a straw hat and carried her 37 miles to an orphanage in Danang. A few weeks later, American Air Force Sgt. James Mitchell adopted her and took her home to his Wisconsin farm.
She was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1991. Two weeks before reporting, her father was struck and killed by lightning while working on the farm.
She went on to serve 17 years as a naval surface warfare officer and worked as a White House military social aide in the last two and a half years of the Bush administration, which ended in 2009. Mitchell enrolled in the Bush Institute’s Veteran Leadership Program in 2019, and she learned she would be one of the subjects in the book when Bush announced it to scholars in the program that October,
She first saw the portrait on display last month in Dallas, where she was invited to participate in a conversation with Bush and Schwarzenegger.
“He did a phenomenal job,” she said of his art work. “I’m looking at this portrait and going, ‘It really does look like me.’”
In the introduction, Bush wrote that immigration can be a divisive issue, so he delayed the book’s publication until after the presidential election so his subjects would not become exploited politically.
“At times, immigration has inspired fear,” he wrote. “Fear of open borders, fear of job losses, fear of cultural degradation. Presidents have had a choice: to soothe those fears or to stoke them. History shows that the latter route should be the road less taken.”
Other subjects in the book include German immigrant Dirk Nowitzki, a Dallas Maverick and sixth-ranked all-time scorer in the NBA, and Dominican Republic immigrant Albert Pujols, a St. Louis Cardinal who hit 650 home runs, 2,000 RBIs and earned three MVP awards. Bush also featured Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ukukaya, who came to the U.S. in 1994 at age 21, used a Small Business Administration in 2005 to buy a yogurt factory Kraft had closed, and launched his successful company, Chobani Yogurt.
In the audio version of the book, each chapter ends with comments from the subjects themselves.
“I think something that I’d want to say to young immigrants about American citizenship is that it’s worth it,” she said. “Becoming a citizen is worth it because this country is our country when we become citizens. And to never let anyone say that because of where you came from or because of the color of your skin or because of your background, that you don’t have the right to be able to give back, to be able to achieve your goals, to achieve your dreams.
“And immigrants are important to this country because it is all of us that have come together,” she said. “This is what America was founded on: immigrants coming to this country and achieving the American dream and making this country what it is today.”