Proud To Be An American?

The events that occurred at the US Capitol building on January 6th have stayed with me over the last few weeks. I must have watched CNN for a total of 9 hours that day and found myself glued to the same station for days after unsure and afraid of what was to come. 

I realized that day that I had never truly understood what it meant to live in a “free” country. Partially because I never really saw myself as free. My ancestors and so many others were brutalized, killed, and had their culture stolen from them all in the name of so-called “freedom”. For so long, living a truly free life was only attainable for white men and many things still have to change in order for there to be true freedom and justice for all. However, when I saw those people with their angry, twisted up faces destroying the Capitol and shouting that they were “taking back our country”. I knew I would never again take for granted what this country has to offer.

Unfortunately, I think it is a very American thing to take what we have for granted. I’ll never know what it is like to grow up in a war-torn country and being forced to leave my home in hopes to find safety. I hear about those stories and I am horrified and saddened, but I was never able to really understand the pain. That was before January 6th. As I watched those terrorists I said to myself “this is the kind of thing that some people deal with every day and this isn’t even as bad as it can get”. It was a moment that humbled me and shook me to my core. 

I am Native American on my mother’s side, but my father is from El Salvador. El Salvador had a horrible civil war that lasted from 1979-1992. My father fled his country at just 17 years old and the only English word he knew was “the”. He and many of my family had to escape and come to the US just so they could have a chance for a safe life, even though the journey itself was incredibly dangerous. I’m only now able to begin to wrap my head around what that must have been like for him and countless of others. I understand now why America is beacon of hope for so many around the world.  

But what would happen if that hope were destroyed? What would happen for people like my father? What happens to us as Americans? Our democracy may be 244 years old,  but it is not invincible. Our democracy stands because we respect it and we all do what we can to uphold it. It is all of our responsibility as citizens to do what we can to dismantle the institutions that threaten to destroy us and all that we have fought for.

I’ve struggled for quite some time now about what It means to be a “proud American”. On one hand, I have always been proud to be an American, because America is a place of opportunity and hope. I think about people like the recently elected US Senator from Georgia, Raphael Warnock whose mother was a sharecropper and picked cotton as a young woman. And with those same hands that she used to pick cotton with, she was able to vote for her own son to represent Georgia in the US Senate. That is why people love America and it’s why I will always be proud to be from this country. But in this same country, young men like Ahmaud Arbery are killed simply for being black and deciding to go for a run. And in this same country, which was partially founded on the idea of religious freedom, Native Americans were not granted the right to fully practice their religious beliefs until 1978. How can I be proud of any of that?

Well, I’m not and I never will be. But being a proud American is not about pretending that there is nothing wrong with this country and there never has been. Being a proud American is about owning up to the hurt we’ve caused and knowing that we can do better and that we all deserve better. We cannot let people like the terrorists who tried to destroy the Capitol building continue to define us as a nation. If that attack showed us anything, it’s that things like white supremacy and hatred will destroy this country and any chance that we have of actually making this country great if we allow it. I for one, have been emboldened to do what ever I can to make sure that I will continue to be proud of this country. 

I’m assuming that if you’re reading our blog, you are probably like me and you want what is best for our country. This country needs people like us right now probably more than ever. I believe that we are at a tipping point in this nation and that things will tip in our favor if we remain vigilant and continue to push our positive agenda forward. It is up to all of us to do whatever we can dismantle the institutions that threaten our democracy and all that we still have to gain. I encourage you all to continue to be the light that you are in these dark times, because our country needs it right now probably more than ever. 

Thank you for reading,

-Gianna

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