I remember being a child and wishing I were in America all the time. It was my Promised Land, and the American Dream was the one I wanted desperately.
It’s ironic, because I lived in Italy, one of the most beautiful place I’ve been, full of life and culture and delectable food, gorgeous, heart-rending cities that careen and curve around the angles of my heart until they settle in for eternity. But as a kid, I didn’t appreciate that.
I wanted America, fast and easy and convenient.
What I also remember is feeling incredibly lucky to be American, wondering how I got to win the genetic lottery of living in the “land of the free, home of the brave.”
And now? Now I still feel like it was lucky that I was born American, mostly because it means I’m able to get into this country that, despite the fear-mongering that’s rampant in our government, is safe and full of opportunity.
I work for and with a lot of Italians, and to the person they bemoan the lack of jobs in their country; they marvel at all the options for work available to them in this one.
It’s the same thing I hear from my childhood friends who are still in Italy: this land is hard. This life is hard. They wonder how I was able to find a job so easily (it took two months of unemployment to land a minimum-wage pizzeria job).
I marvel, too, because as hard as it’s been over the past year to find a good job in my field (read: impossible, hence the barista aspect of my life), I have been able to find a job, one that pays just enough for me to pay my Brooklyn rent, buy my Brooklyn groceries and live the New York life that has become my version of the American dream.
Life in America is a lot easier than in a lot of other places, and my American passport affords me a heck-ton of opportunities.
As a kid, I loved all things American and wanted to be as foreign as possible in Italy. So when the 4th of July rolled around, I donned my American flag t-shirt and sang the anthem with gusto and reveled in my American status. I was proud and patriotic and in love with being from the “best place on earth” or whatever.
And now? Now I’m…conflicted. Like I said, I still see the value and opportunity in my homeland. But I also see the hardships. I see the fissures in our communities, the cracks between people of one kind and another…between black and white and gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, home-bred and foreign-born.
And it breaks my heart, because I can’t help but believe that we should all love each other. That our differences make us stronger. I know firsthand from growing up in a foreign culture that people who look, talk, act and think differently than you can add to your life, rather than take away from it. We thrive in diversity, stifle in homogeneity.
This Fourth of July is bittersweet. It’s the first under a new administration that is doing a lot of things I cannot get behind, including changing health insurance so it’ll be harder for people like me to get coverage, including trying to institute a ban of people from a certain religion, including firing up a lot of really hateful people to do really awful things.
But I’ve also seen, over the past six months, an outpouring of love. I’ve seen people online and in real life stand up for those who look differently, I’ve seen people mobilize to get more involved in their government, I’ve seen support given where it is needed despite differences.
So I know that the American people are worth celebrating. Not just the ones who were born here or who look like me; the ones who inspire me the most, often, are the ones whose stories are radically different from mine.
So I know that just like any person, America is a mix of good and bad. Unlike when I was a child, I don’t think I can don my T-shirt and proclaim it’s the best country in the world. I know now more of the history of how it was built, on the backs of slaves, and I cannot turn a blind eye to the racism and hatred that exists as a fault line through our culture.
At the same time, I can’t throw away the goodness of the American people, the strength and resilience and love I also see.
So this Fourth of July, I’m gonna celebrate. I’m gonna brunch with a friend, going to write and read and relax and watch the fireworks, and know that as far as we’ve come, we’ve got a ways to go yet. And I’m going to believe to we’ll get there. So I’m going to celebrate in advance. And tomorrow, I’m going to wake up and get to work.
I haven’t been politically involved lately because sometimes my depression makes it hard to think past myself. But I’m committing to get out of my head going forward…to call senators and vote and get others to vote and volunteer to teach kids to read and support people and love people and be radical. And maybe the fault line of hate can become a fault line of love.