Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Why I'm still unabashedly proud to be born in the USA

Today is a day of conflict for many families like mine. On the one hand, we're surrounded by parades, festivals, flags and all the symbolism reminding us to be proud of and celebrate our great country. On the other hand, we're weary from the daily and very undignified struggle of having our nuclear family unit split up into different countries as a result of our our own country's policies and legal values.

Our families are put through exceptionally miserable challenges due to unjust laws that were passed, after all, by legislative representatives of the American people. And more recently, various elected officials have started passing legislation that is not only questionable under the constitution, but thoroughly misguided and fundamentally based in racism and xenophobia. Finally, many news sources spread a huge amount of rhetoric that really does have its base in hate, ignorance, willful misinformation, and lies. This is the stuff that gets the most attention, because as Emily Guzman said one time, "Crazy gets attention". Unfortunately, because crazy gets attention, it gets a lot of the votes, too.

Despite the agony that my family is going through right now, I don't believe US immigration laws were made with punishing US citizen families in mind. I don't think US immigration laws were made with US citizen families in mind at all, and that is the problem. The immigration laws of 1996, the ones that have a thousands of families suffering under 5-year, 10-year, and lifetime bans, were really a hodge-podge of ideas and policies that ultimately got united under one big, messy, inconsistent, arbitrary, and unbending mass of legislation.

I think when the laws have ripped you from your country, it's easy to harbor resentment towards that country. In fact, it's probably essential to sanity and survival to see the best in your new home and recognize all the great reasons why you're there. But I disagree with the bashing of our birth country, because this blindly ignores all the amazing reasons why we're so privileged to be citizens of the country that the rest of the world is (sometimes literally) dying to get into.

I still have faith in my home country, even though I will soon be among its exiles. And I don't believe I am just being overly optimistic and naïve. Granted, my reality is set in Illinois, which detractors complain has become the most "unauthorized immigrant-friendly state". Here, people of half a dozen races and ethnic origins, including middle-class white people, can all live together happily in regular little suburban neighborhoods and gladly help each other out anytime they can (and I speak from personal experience on that). I went to a university where the Muslim students gathered to pray in the major commons area at noon while the Jewish and Catholic students held meetings nearby, and we all worked together seamlessly on projects and studies in class and often joined each other for meals during break times. I enjoyed free times watching my husband play on teams with guys who had almost no common language except broken English and soccer. I worship at church where dozens of languages are commonly spoken in the lobby and where multi-national, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial families are everywhere. I live in a country where a person can still arrive with practically nothing, and through a lot of hard work, they can not only acquire a vehicle, but even a home!

The US stands alone in its amazing range of diversity in background, culture, and experience. Few countries in this world are attempting to educate (for free) such a vast percentage of the population. The freedoms we have, while sometimes obnoxiously limited or challenged, still surpass the freedoms most people in our spouse's countries have. But above all, the potential for upward movement, even in the oppressed sectors of the US, is inspiring. And in the US, you don't have to worry greatly that achieving a comfortable middle-class lifestyle or becoming a successful business owner will cause your family to become a target from the evildoers (i.e. drug cartels) seeking financial gain through physical threats to those who are making even the slightest gains in society.

When you're forced to become a foreigner in a new country, and you see what poor opportunities exist for your own native-born spouse there, and when you take into account the struggles one must face just to become nominally successful in that country, you realize that the US is an awesome country that is in need of a serious attitude adjustment. 

I know that the US is becoming a toxic place for unauthorized immigrants. But having lived among illegal immigrants in several other developed nations around the world, I have seen that even our unauthorized immigrants are treated better than many of the legal immigrants in other countries.  I haven't spent a lot of time in other countries, but from those that I have visited, I can say without a question that the US is a much better place for an illegal immigrant than the other places I've been. In Europe, it's nearly impossible for illegal immigrants to rent or even finance anything, and their children are not privileged to birthright citizenship. In Mexico, illegal immigrants, particularly the most common ones from Central and South America, are not only despised and mocked, but incredibly exploited and abused, and recently 72 of them were found in a mass grave in northern Mexico.

No, the US is not blameless, and yes, the US has done some shameful and atrocious things and absolutely, some of its citizens do a total disgrace to the honor of being called a US citizen. But I believe that ultimately, the people in this country stand for justice. Someday the blinders will come off and the present issues will become yet another scar in the US' pained past as we heal towards a better future, welcoming even more people as members of our society than we ever have in our history.

We have a long way to go. But the US will always be home to me, and I dream that one day my family will be able to return to it.


Amanda said...

I love your post, and actually Im glad I read it after I just posted mine. Im one of the conflicted ones. I like you feel that the US has great potential and was founded on amazing ideas. But its sad for me to see the way it has gone. Also I have to add that it is possible to make it and do well in other contries and that the States isnt the end all be all when it comes to being happy. Again like you say, I will always remember where Im from and be proud to say " Soy Americana de Estatdos Unidos" Thanks for sharing although Im still all mixed up its nice to read how others are thinking it all through.

Stephanie said...

Great post. It pretty much summarizes exactly how I feel and what I wanted to say, but had no idea how to say it! Good luck on your new adventure, I'll be following along to see how its goes.

I am among the exiles, with my husband is Brazil. I've been here for 2 years now. :) It's days like today that make me the most homesick. Despite all that has happened, my little patriotic heart keeps beating strong.

Happy 4th to you and yours

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