Something has been gnawing at me for a week now; well, besides the terrible results of the American presidential election. For someone like me who came to the U.S. when I was 7 years old, fleeing from a cruel civil war in Central America, coming here was a life-saving event. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan was pumping millions of dollars into cold war confrontations with Russia in the region, all for the sake of “Liberty and Freedom”.
On one side, Reagan helped the rebels in Nicaragua through illegal deals with Iran in the sale of arms to that Middle-Eastern country. The cash was then pumped to the “Contras” to bring down the Sandinistas, whom Russia supported. In El Salvador, Reagan supported the government with millions in military aid and logistics; same in Guatemala. Honduras, right next door, agreed to let the U.S. use its military bases to train the Salvadoran army; Honduras got cash in return.
My point is, be it wars supported by the U.S. or not, natural disaster or persecution for being who you are, we came here seeking exactly what they said they were fighting for…”Liberty and Freedom”. No one, especially a 7-year-old kid, wants to leave the land of their birth, the culture, food, school, friends, and loved ones. It is an unprecedented decision; a hard, emotional one. The idea that my friends will never be understood by those who have not suffered like this, who have never had to hide under a bed while death stalks outside the door.
So, I know the plight of such immigrants. The pain, the sadness, the emotional wear-and-tear on your humanity. Men created borders and men created laws, yes, but men also created suffering.
When I got here, it was right in the middle of the school year, so I remained in a prolonged off-school vacation for months. Mom managed to buy a tiny black-and-white TV; my little brother and I watched it all day with eyes and minds wide open. To make this story short, by September…guess who already knew how to chew the English language so-so? Yup, me.
Within a few years and through her job, my mom managed to achieve permanent resident status for her and her two little brown boys. She had up to three jobs a day, so we had to walk ourselves to and from school, do our homework, get something to eat from the fridge, and clean our tiny home. When she came home, she brought stacks of newspapers which we split among us three and cut coupons while watching her favorite Telenovela. Going to movies, McDonald’s, or getting an expensive toy was a dream. She never applied for any type of assistance. It was tight belts, hard work, and discipline.
Years passed, and I couldn’t wait to turn 18 because then I could apply to become a U.S. Citizen. I did, then I couldn’t wait to vote. My brother went off to serve as a Marine, and as soon as I graduated from high school, I worked all day and attended community college at night (Political Science). We were instilled with a sense of responsibility and love for this benevolent country. Life went on, and we participated in every election; I would also take my elderly neighbor with me, since she was almost 90.
There is a love and pride that is based on thankfulness when someone has saved you. I was thankful, and I would try to be a model citizen. The stamp of approval for me to stay here came from the U.S., true, but the chapters of my life were and are rooted in this land we call California. And boy, did I fall in love!
So, to go back to the issue that has been gnawing at me, it is exactly that: am I being an ingrate now by believing that California should track a path for its own future? As a responsible citizen, I did contemplate that question. And when weighing these moral questions, one has to be absolutely objective, practical and logical. And I came to this conclusion.
We are not being ingrates, because we are pursuing the same aspirations that gave birth to the U.S. Within this political system, the values, preoccupations, and needs of the majority of Californians go unrepresented. Some people may not want to admit it, but it is true. We cannot force a Union based solely on momentum and a broken status quo, when our cultural, civil, and representational ties were cut long ago.
America is no longer the land of opportunity, the land that welcomes refugees. That America has been buried in a wave of racism and resurgent white nationalism. Today, the American dream thrives in California and a few other brave and beautiful states.
We don’t want animosity, nor ill will toward anyone, nor hatred. We will make our case on economical terms, on representational terms, and on social terms. This movement is motivated by the right reasons–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and starts with having our hearts in the right place–where all souls are created equal.
More than sadness or disappointment in America, this is a chance to build a nation that reflects the values of hard work and optimism that I learned from my mother. California should begin a journey that is familiar to the many immigrant families who have come here from all over the world, for centuries, seeking justice and the opportunity to build a better future. We must leave the familiar nation behind and strike out boldly into possibility itself, confident that whatever challenges are ahead, we can build a better tomorrow through hard work and dedication. We can do this!