By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
In years past, I’ve chosen to use Independence Day as a time to dedicate this weekly column to the exploration of what it means to be American. What American values are. Who Americans are. What kind of people we are. What kind of people we hope to be. What kind of nation we hope to be. How our nation has evolved and struggled, gone forward and stepped back and gone forward again numerous times over the course of our short history.
A lot of those conversations center around the news of the day that ultimately served as the fuel for our moments of progress (and sometimes regression) within our society. But, it can be hard to see that bigger picture when you are so entangled in the moment, in the present and now. It’s a classic case of missing the forest for the trees.
“We, as a nation, are still challenged by myriad issues that call on us to redefine what it means to be American. As individuals, we are challenged to re-evaluate our own internalized ideas about our country, our place within it, and the place of those beside us,” I wrote in my 2016 Fourth of July column.
Challenging our internalized ideas about “the place of those beside us” has become an especially germane topic in light of current events happening along the border and right here in our Rio Grande Valley communities. It’s an especially germane topic to consider as we pause to celebrate the birth of our nation, which was, after all, founded by immigrants (and the children of immigrants) who crossed an ocean to come to these lands seeking a better life.
Our country’s story began with immigration. And immigration remains an inextricable part of that story to this day. It may feel like today’s immigration-related headlines are the most partisan and divisive they’ve ever been, but that’s because this is the now we know. We are seeing the trees and not realizing they make up an entire forest of history.
That history includes things like the Bracero Program and Operation Wetback. It includes the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps. It includes the immigration quota system. It includes the post-9/11 Muslim registry. It includes the turning away of the ocean liner St. Louis in 1939.
Those are perhaps some of the darker moments in our nation’s history — and they ARE undeniably a part of our history.
However, as a nation, we learned from those parts of our past. We are still learning. We are not yet perfect, but we strive to be.
The road is not always smooth; the path is not always straight. But, eventually, we grow and we add to the cultural tapestry that makes this country like no other on Earth. Tocqueville likened American culture to a melting pot, where the ingredients blend together homogenously. Others have likened it to a salad bowl — where each ingredient, or culture, exists together harmoniously while retaining their distinct qualities. I, personally, think there’s truth to both ideas.
It’s worth remembering that there has never been a moment in our history when some haven’t struggled with how to reconcile the expansion and evolution of our cultural mosaic. But, as I wrote in 2016, “After every challenge, we emerge stronger, better and invariably American.” I still have faith in that and in our great democratic experiment.
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