Some immigrants come to America in search of better economic opportunities. Others come to get a strong education they can later use to help develop their own countries. Still others come to escape the virulent persecution they endure at home simply for being who they are.
It’s a bit scary how easy it is to forget that, no matter how dysfunctional – and sometimes straight-up crazy – the United States may be, we have an enormous amount of leeway to chase our dreams and speak our minds. We can say and do things that would make us disappear permanently if we were in some of the planet’s more repressive nations.
I started thinking about this, and about what Independence Day means for an immigrant, after reading this recent commentary from William Holston, a lawyer for the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, who has represented immigrants for more than a decade. In his article, Holston recounts his conversations with clients from Africa and Central America.
He says, for example, that he took his religious freedom for granted – the way most of us here take our freedoms for granted – until he spoke to an Eritrean client who said people there can be arrested simply for reading the Bible, an outrageous violation that’s unthinkable here.
“Living here has given me tremendous opportunities, access to an education, freedom to pursue my passion as an artist and the possibility to access resources needed to accomplish my goals,” a Rwandan friend told Holston.
Reading Holston’s article also reminded me of David Brooks’ recent New York Times column, “A Nation of Mutts.”
While I find his use of the word “mutt” to describe anyone who is of mixed race – it strongly implies inferiority – objectionable, the rest of the column makes for fascinating reading on the increasingly-diverse “face” of the average American. In the end, Brooks takes a positive view of these demographic changes and says he’s “excited” about them.
I am, too. Diversity, both in genetics and in society at large, is a very healthy thing. And, as Brooks points out, if the current immigration reform legislation making its way through Congress, America’s march toward being a country with no one dominant racial or ethnic group is bound to accelerate.
My colleagues at ThinkInk have previously commented about what the implications of immigration reform could mean for marketers targeting America’s largest immigrant group, Latinos. They’ve also written about the fact that, in targeting Hispanic audiences, marketers should bear in mind that many Latinos living here happily embrace dual identities: those of their families’ countries of origin as well as American identities.
But I also think that embracing immigration reform could also have the effect of making us appreciate the freedoms we take for granted just a little more.
So it’s likely that, for an immigrant coming from, say, violence-wracked nations such as Honduras or Syria, Independence Day is another symbol – like the Stars and Stripes or the Statue of Liberty – of a place where it’s safer to just be yourself and pursue your aspirations.
Yes, there is plenty to criticize about this country – the lack of civil political discourse, our government’s often out-of-whack priorities, etc. – but there is also so much to be thankful for.
Perhaps if we’re more grateful for our everyday freedoms, we will fight harder to keep them.