Last week, Americans celebrated. We ate heaps of potato salad and looked to the sky.
Each July 4, no matter the political climate and frustrations, I’m proud of the fact that we remain unwaveringly free. For a day, beneath billows of red, white and blue, our nation puts arguing on hold and turns focus on fireworks dancing off a spectrum of faces.
During these annual light shows my mind always flutters to immigration: something I would not be here without. See, I was born in a country where I am free to do, be, say and dream whatever I want. My dad was not.
In the 1970s, he came to America under the arms of his parents, who just wanted better lives for their four children. A civil war was ravaging the Middle East and Lebanon and was growing increasingly dangerous.
Grandpa (Jidu in Arabic) and Grandma (Teta) are people of few words, even less in English, but I know how much Independence Day means to them. Each Fourth of July, they host a family cookout. He spends the afternoon quietly watching a new generation of his family, who will never have to do what he had to, and she presents plates of food to grandchildren she’s been proud of since birth.
Independence Day is a reminder of their bravery, because bravery is what it takes to be an immigrant.
With nothing more than their children, hope and a carry-on, Jidu and Teta left the remote hills of Lebanon, leaving behind all they’ve ever known. They made their first trip outside the Beqaa Valley and rode their first plane. The United States of America was as tangible as a dream, a foreign land of opportunity where they were told they wouldn’t have to fear for their children’s safety.
My family of humble olive farmers landed in urban Cleveland and were sponsored by another family member who made the same journey years before. They obtained green cards and, eventually, citizenship.
Right away, Jidu got a job manning a parking lot ticket booth. Teta focused on raising the kids and building a sense of home.
Today, Jidu works in the same ticket booth, even though he’s well past retirement age. Teta hosts her children’s children out of the same home she raised her own in, with the same 1970s yellow shag carpet.
Growing up, I never heard gunshots. I never had to smother my dreams. I never had to travel for survival, just leisure. Jidu and Teta, two brave immigrants, are who I have to thank for everything.
That’s why it pains me so much to know how negatively some natural-born Americans view immigrants. Immigrants are simply pursuing a better life, only to be met with hate, racism and violence.
People born in less fortunate countries, fall asleep to bedtime stories of America the Free, where they can play outside and feed their families. Our nation is desirable because it is free, and freedom isn’t a finite resource. We will never run out of it. So why not share?
It is easy to reject those who want to settle where we have settled. It might seem safe to put up walls and brand them with words like criminal, terrorist and alien. But there is no need.
There was nothing malicious about Jidu and Teta’s intentions to become Americans the same way there isn’t malice behind present-day immigrants.
My grandparents wouldn’t have made the most precarious journey of their lives if it wasn’t vital. They did it to survive, secure a safe future for their children and settle into simplicity.
Every day, but especially on July 5, Jidu and Teta wake up to all they’ve ever wanted, their biggest dream: their children living without the dangers they were born into.