Monday, September 19, 2016

Brave to be an American

There's a lot going on in our country right now, isn't there? Is it just me or do other's feel like an election year lasts 10 times longer than a regular year? I can't say I am proud of everything going on and I am still trying to figure out where I stand on certain events. Rather than write a blog about the confusion of what it is to be an American today, I am going to talk about bravery.

My practicum is at the International Institute of St. Louis this semester, where newly settled refugees come for assistance in all areas of life, from health and housing assistance to employment and education. It has been around since 1919 and does incredible work. I know that's a pretty broad statement, so if you want to learn more let's grab a coffee and chat about it!

Anyway, last week I was able to sit in on a citizenship ceremony for 39 new Americans. Those who know me well know I don't get emotional about much, except for Hadley Marie, who moved me to tears the first time I saw her perfect face, and the movie Remember the Titans-I cry during the final scene every time. Last week, however, as the court choir sang America The Beautiful and the 39 new Americans stood up to say their names, where they were from, and how long they've been in the States, I could've used a tissue.

I sat there in almost disbelief. In a time where certain politicians and media personnel are telling citizens who are unhappy with their country to leave and want to place restrictions on entire ethnic and religious groups from entering the country, they still wanted to call America home. They believe in the freedoms promised in our Constitution and believe in the opportunity for success.

I sat in disbelief not because I think those 39 people are fools, but because they reassured me. It has been so easy to complain about the state of our country. So easy to say I'm turning in my passport if Trump gets elected.  These 39 people are brave. They know the power of their vote and their voice. They acted as a reminder not to wallow in my own disbelief that our country can't change because, for them, it has to. It has to be better because they gave up everything to put their hand on their heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance to The US.

Not every person standing at the ceremony last week was a refugee or came from a Third World country, but every person standing gave up citizenship from another country. They believe so much in what the American flag stands for, that they held it proudly with their certificate of citizenship in a picture.

This post isn't without its concerns. I struggle with the idea that the American flag and the Constitution carry the same meaning for everyone in this country and abroad. I have seen people strive for the American Dream and are heartbroken to discover inequality in our country. I still say that I'll turn in my passport if Trump is elected, but I am encouraged by those 39 people to keep working. To keep pursuing a career where I can make new Americans feel welcome. To keep educating others of the benefits to welcoming new citizens. To keep exploring better ways to do certain things I was once sure of to better serve those around me.

I am so proud of those 39 people I never met. They'll never know who I am, but I hope my applause from the balcony of the room meant something to them that day. I hope they realize just how brave they are to embark on a new life as an American.