What does July 4 mean in 2019?
Normally, I feel giddy on the 4th of July. I am one of those patriotic fools who tears up at the National Anthem (or did until I discovered its white supremacist roots), and at the Pledge of Allegiance. For all our flaws, we are a nation that has, at least for the past 100 years or so, gradually been expanding rights to include more and more types of Americans under the banner of the Red, White and Blue.
But this morning, I woke up with a profound sense of melancholy that I have not been able to shake. I dragged my bones out of my bed to take my daughters, six and eight, to our town parade, which they love so much every year. I will avail myself of the excuse the day offers to take time off of work and see beloved friends at various barbecues. I’ll make sure my kids get to see the fireworks. But my heart is not in it. There is no sense of wonder and joy at the possibility of the advancement of freedom and rights for all, the confidence that, for all our sins, we were the first to break free of monarchy and theocracy, over time creating a flawed but ever “more perfect” model for democracy, becoming a haven where generations of “tired, poor...huddled masses” came to breathe free, and offer their children and grandchildren a better life than they had ever dreamed of.
My husband and in-laws immigrated from Ghana, West Africa, my maternal grandmother from Italy, and my paternal great-grandfather from Mexico, all seeking - and finding - a new destiny overflowing with opportunity.
Among our current presidential candidates, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Bernie Sanders, and Michael Bennet, just to name a few, hail from at least one immigrant parent, as did our previous president, Barack Obama. Our current president himself is the son of a Scottish immigrant mother and grandson of a German immigrant on his father’s side. He is married to an immigrant, whose papers may not always have passed the sniff test. In fact, two of his three wives, mothers to four of his five children, are immigrants. And his myriad business establishments employ hundreds, if not thousands, of immigrants, including, until recently, a significant number of undocumented ones.
Yet, thanks to Trump, our government now separates and detains thousands of immigrant families in what many experts describe as “concentration camps,” even though their pursuit of asylum is legal under U.S. and international law, and those who have crossed the border illegally are committing a mere misdemeanor, like a speeding ticket.
Imagine if we kidnapped the children of everyone with a speeding ticket and threw them into cages with no water, medical care, blankets, soap or toothpaste, exposing them to physical, emotional, and rampant sexual abuse, as well as infection and death. The mere utterance of it sounds absurd and yet that is what the Trump administration is currently perpetrating in our so-called “Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave.”
Never mind that undocumented immigrants statistically commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans or that the jobs they fill are not ones American citizens generally compete for. Never mind what they bring culturally and economically to our famed Melting Pot, spicing up our palettes, and infusing our national coffers with far more tax revenue than they extract in social services. Forget that American foreign policy in Latin America has contributed to the dangerous crisis that has sent so many refugees up here, fleeing for their lives.
As New York Times columnist Charles Blow tweeted yesterday, “There are tanks in our capital and concentration camps at our border. The drift toward the unthinkable is unmistakable.”
Since the first images of children, even babies, being separated from their parents were released a year ago, sleep has often eluded me, as it has for so many Americans. In Los Angeles, where I live, citizens, documented immigrants, and undocumented immigrants mingle happily every day. We shop together and sit in traffic together. Our children attend school and play together. We exist in happy community with each other and think nothing of it.
However, lately, every time I look at the children I know whose families have recently immigrated from Latin America, their big brown eyes and chubby cheeks, their excellent behavior as compared to most American-born kids and close-knit relationship with their families, I feel a pang in my heart, knowing both that their own safety is not assured and that thousands of kids who look just like them are silently enduring life in squalid cells away from their loving parents and abuelos, tios and tias.
As former Japanese-American internment camp detainee, Star Trek actor George Takei, recently shared, “At least during my internment, I was not taken from my parents.”
How can I celebrate Independence Day, when children the age of my own rot in cells worse than what many prisoners of war and hostages experience? How can I celebrate when untold millions are spent on a authoritarian-type military parade in our capital, but our leaders claim they can’t afford toothpaste for kids or interepreters for immigrants’ court appearances?
I spent my junior year of college at Trinity College Dublin, learning about “the Fifth Province,” a province of the imagination in which all the provinces of Ireland are reunited and free. Today, the best I can hope for is to celebrate the United States of America’s “Fifth Province” - a place of unity, compassion, and freedom that is only real if we make it so.