July 4. “Too often opportunity knocks, but by the time you disengage the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.” (Rita Coolidge)
Today in the United States we celebrate the Independence Day holiday. On this date in 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a group of men got together, putting their lives on the line, and declared that the 13 colonies were independent from the rule of the British throne. Soon after a war was fought to seal that independence, launching this country into existence.
In the 238 years since that fateful day, this country has been called many things including “The land of opportunity.” More than 150 years before that day in 1776, men and women came to this country risking their very lives on sailing ships that were barely seaworthy because they wanted the opportunities that this land brought them. Some sought religious freedom, some were looking to make their own fortunes, some came just for the high adventure of it all. But all came seeking some kind of opportunity that was worth risking everything to experience.
In the 19th century, people came to this country by the boatload. With all their worldly wealth sewn into special pockets in their clothes, they endured rickety wagons, or trips across the great lakes on another set of barely-sea worthy boats. Many died on the trip, whether on the boats from Europe, on the wagons, on those lake boats, of in their first year in the rough wilderness that awaited them. And still they came.
Some came here seeking a better life for themselves only to be met with discrimination by those that had come before them. Many of the groups arrived and found not streets lined with gold, but poverty from being in run down ghettos, outcast from the mainstream of the growing cities. And still they came.
It is easy for us, living in the 21st century in this country, to forget just how hard it was for our ancestors who came here to find their way. The ancestors on my father’s side came here from Ireland in the 1860s. By the early 20th century my grandfather was raising a family with 3 children, with his mother and grandmother living with him, and sometimes his brother. The census shows that as many as 12 of them lived in an apartment with two bedrooms. They walked or took the street cars everywhere they had to go. But they were happy. They had the opportunities around them to make something more of their lives, and they grabbed it by the horns and wouldn’t let go.
Today men and women are still risking their lives to come here. Some dig tunnels, some ford rivers, some sneak in ramshackle trucks, others in makeshift boats on the high seas. They come with all their worldly possessions strapped to their bodies. Many die on the trip. Some arrive only to be imprisoned and sent back. And still they come.
Many when they arrive work menial jobs that few others would ever dare to take. They fight through language barriers, and discrimination. They live in multi-generational households and work countless hours to provide for their existence.
These immigrants today, like the millions before them, come here because for all that people say about this country, it remains the land of opportunity.
In recent years it has become fashionable to say negative things about America. Both domestically and abroad there is a growing number of people all too willing to tell us how bad things are here. We are told we have issues with our health care, our cities, our carbon emissions, and more. Some of the most harsh critics are paid by the people to lead us, and spend too much of their time telling us what is wrong with the country.
The states that border Mexico cannot keep people from crossing over the line into the country. The politics of these people begging to get in is complex. There are legitimate worries about how to provide for them once they arrive, and crime rates in the bordering areas. Some favor looser restrictions on immigration, while others want to see those coming in following the rules of entry. My purpose here isn’t to debate that question.
Apparently those aching to get in have not gotten the memo that there are so many problems here. They haven’t heard from people both in this country and in others that this country is headed for ruin. They haven’t been told that things are bad and getting worse. No one has indoctrinated them on the evils of our capitalistic economny. They see this country through the same eyes as my great-great-grandmother in the 1860s. They see it as the land of opportunity. They see it as the place where they can go and work hard and make a better life for themselves. It doesn’t matter to them how many bolts are on the doors, how high the fence, how deep the water, how great the penalties to entry, they still come.
Perhaps I am naive, maybe I just don’t get it, but I still think of this country, my homeland, as the greatest country in the world. I don’t say that to put other countries down, I say it so I can stand proud and honor the flag of my nation and all of the ideals for which it stands.
Today I am closing my post with the words that I repeated every day of my grade school years. Words that still evoke pride in me, words for which I am not and will never be ashamed.
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.