Thirty-five years ago, we got on a plane and upon landing, caught a taxi to take us to our new home. As we drove through the city, the night sky was suddenly filled with fireworks.
I was in awe. I now knew this was the land of magic and opportunity, laying out the most amazing firework display, clearly stating: WELCOME TO THE USA, VERONICA!
But as a 10-year-old immigrant, I was not up on my U.S. history, and didn’t know that the Fourth of July marked the celebration of American independence.
Regardless of who those fireworks celebrated, the sentiment of being awestruck and so warmly welcomed remained with me. But the transition was not easy- As a kid, I had to leave my Barbies behind; I had to leave my Barbie House behind (do you know how long it took Santa to finally bring that Barbie House?) Just imagine the agony of weighing all of my possessions and determining what would travel with me and what, sadly, would be left behind.
My family of five, moved in with some relatives, who had a family of four. Into a one-bedroom apartment. Do the math: 9 people, one bedroom…
From then on, our lives were a study in dedication and hard work. My parents opened a small grocery store, working seven days a week, more than 16 hours a day. My mother took on a third-shift security guard job to help pay for my college education. At the age of 14 (if not earlier!) I not only worked at the grocery store, but also with the local notary; then in college, as a telemarketer and making Christmas wreaths. Have you ever made wreaths, outdoors, in freezing temperatures with no gloves? Even worse than being a telemarketer!
The bottom line, and fast forwarding through a lot of yuckiness which I’ll save for the book, I find myself living the American dream. Educated, living very comfortably in a suburban neighborhood, with stable transportation and access to healthcare. My children attend phenomenal schools and have very bright futures. My family pays our fair share of taxes. We volunteer hundreds of hours and work on multiple pro bono projects tackling the challenging issues of our society, including equal access to education, supporting small businesses, and basic human rights.
We are very much like those children sitting in the pseudo-dog kennels on the border in Texas and New Mexico. The little seven-year-olds that are caring for infants. That are separated from their families.
Like the same immigrants that have been here for decades yet are threatened with ICE raids. And deported. Sent back to countries that are ravaged by violence and civil strife.
I’m a big proponent of safety, after all, I have children; I want to live in an environment where I know we’re all protected. But the fear and the concern that is being attributed to these immigrants in the border and via ICE raids, is misdirected. They’re not causing problems.
With our limited defense and law-enforcement budget, our tax-dollars would be better spent tackling mental health issues, or reentry programming to reduce incarceration and recidivism.
Our country can benefit from more immigrants, the data quantifies this. With over 40% of all Fortune 500 companies established by immigrants, and one out of every two American births being of Hispanic origin, we are slated for positive impact, plus where else are you going to get your future workers and consumers from? Where else will you get the Innovation to keep the United States at the front of the global economy?
I’m baffled by the lack of welcome. Generally (and speaking from personal experience) immigrants are eager, hard-working, and committed to becoming patriots.
My request as we celebrate the independence of this great country, is for you to remember your ancestry. Your parents and your grandparents, unless you hail from Native American stock, were not born in American soil.
Yet you were welcomed.
You are here today because you were allowed to enter. You were allowed to flourish. You’re living the American dream because America allowed it.
Amigos, I love to see your genealogy report, and hear the stories of the migration journey your ancestors undertook. That particular journey that brought you here to enjoy the glorious fireworks. Enjoy your independence and remember what makes this country so grand.