This Fourth of July is a difficult one to reconcile. I suspect that it is for most people. Everyday we have to redefine what it means to be an American, what the ideals are and what we stand or sit for. Everyday we are tested and not every day we pass.
It’s been a difficult time.
I am a child of immigrants and just that alone is enough to be shown by my country that I don’t belong. News and social media are filled with images of people who look like me and would like my family and ancestors on the dirty floor, dead, near dead, or on their way to death. I have inherited the bigotry and discrimination of an entire history that does not belong to me. See, my family is only one generation deep in this country. None of my ancestors worked plantations on this soil. And yet, I am demanded to maneuver through the burden of another.
I think about that more often than I have in the past.
I also think about if I ever really knew what being American means. I went back to the Declaration of Independence and this is what I know is true, that we all have the opportunity to pursue happiness. But this is what I also know to be true: there was no guarantee that it would be easy, that it wouldn’t come at a cost, that it wouldn’t be treacherous.
That is what this “American Dream” is, the opportunity to pursue what you want and taking on the cost to do it.
I think of my parents in this instance, my mom from Guatemala and my dad from Cuba. What would my life had been like had they stayed? Sometimes I think of this when I hear mom talk about growing up in her mountain town or when she remembers what it was like to be an immigrant in 1970s America. If she had stayed, would I be a professor? Would I have been a journalist? Would I even have had a profession? My mother was a butcher’s daughter. She ran the business at 15 when granddad got sick. She was the only woman doing the gig among a field of men. She left after a heartbreak and seeing no other opportunity other than being someone else’s wife.
She came here for the opportunity to build something. It wasn’t easy. It was probably the toughest thing she did, leaving everyone she knew and loved for a chance to live her best life. I am grateful for that decision. I am here, writing this post, because of that decision.
When I think opportunity, I also think of A Different World, that tv show from the 1980s and 90s. That was the first time I saw people who looked like me going to college. I knew I’d always go to college but didn’t know what that meant. My parents made it very clear at the beginning that they were shooting their shot with my college education. But this show was what made me see that college was a real possibility for me.
For the first time, ever, I saw people who looked like me being in a spot that was safe, and fun, and a chance to pursue happiness. This is what America is. This show, this idea, this thought, my parents, their struggle, my own struggle. That is what it means to be an American.
I’ve heard this piece of advice more times that I can count: you chose joy. Usually, I roll my eyes at that piece of advice. It’s so simplistic. But today, I’m going to heed it.
I chose to celebrate the America that I know. The one who saw me grow up in my parents’ opportunity and pursuit of happiness. I chose to celebrate the America that allows people to still protest and fight for other’s opportunities because it’s the right thing to do. I chose to celebrate my mom, my dad, my sister. I will celebrate my friends. I will celebrate that my pursuit of happiness, while at times painful, difficult, and exasperating, is mine and that I have at least a shot at making it better.
Tomorrow we can continue dismantling discrimination, racism, patriarchy, and other things. Today, let us chose joy.