I went to visit my parents today, and on my way there I was listening to a radio station “broadcasting live from the Empire State” so naturally, my mind drifted to the Empire State Building, and then to the Twin Towers, and finally 9/11. I still feel like crying when I think about that day. I remember that day vividly, despite it being almost 15 years ago. That was the day I became an American.
I was born and raised in New Jersey, but being the daughter of immigrants, I had a strong tie to their country, El Salvador. I liked to say that I was Salvadorean, even though I was born here. I grew up knowing everything about the culture, the music, the language, and because I was sent to El Salvador on summer vacations, I felt a tie to my family as well. I loved the country, and claimed it as my own. Because I grew up watching futból, I was all about sporting my team’s soccer jersey, the Salvadorean one. When we played the United States, I would often only cheer for El Salvador, but be okay with the result if the US won, which was basically every time.
When the attacks on 9/11 happened, my world was shaken. I cried because it hurt to see something I took for granted, get destroyed. It hurt because so many innocent people were killed, and it hurt because I realized that this was my country and I loved it more than I had ever realized. If I had been old enough to enlist in the army, I would have. I was not scared, I was angry. The anger I felt only further proved how much I loved my country and how much I wanted to do something for it.
From that day on, I only claimed America as my country, and if people got annoyed by it, so be it. Now don’t get me wrong, I still love El Salvador; it gave me my parents, which is what I love most in the world. I am very proud of my heritage, and I will try my best to keep the culture for the younger generation in the family. I’m very proud of my ancestors and where I came from, but ultimately the country that gave me everything I have, is America. I may not have much, but my parents emigrated for the promise of a better life for their children, and that’s what I have.
My parents left their home and everything they knew, at a young age, solely for the promise of a better life. They left the safety of their families, and ventured into a strange land without knowing a word in the foreign language. They might as well be astronauts, settling in to live next door to aliens. Nothing I EVER do will be as great as that. They accomplished more than I ever will, before they even hit 30. I could never leave my family and venture over to a foreign country, but that’s only because I’m not desperate enough to do so. For that, I thank them.
I honor their sacrifice, by making sure everything I do is to make them proud. I think most hyphenated-Americans would agree with me. The pressure is on to be the best person you can be. Our parents suffered so that their children could be dreamers. I often think what my life would be like if I was born in El Salvador. I would not have half of what I have now. I know that. I often dream of my future, and I often pep myself up by telling myself everything I dream of is attainable, I just have to work my ass off. That would not be the case if I did not live here, and I think it’s something we have to always remember. The American Dream is very much alive, and we have to remember many people would give anything to be in our shoes. Make the most of that.
With everything going on in the news today, it makes me sick to hear all the hatred aimed at immigrants. Do you really thing people WANT to go to somewhere where they know they are despised? No one wants to enter somewhere where they are not wanted, but they do so because they are desperate. Cleaning shit off walls is a better opportunity than their options in their home country. That’s sad. This nation was built by immigrants; it would be nothing without them. So before you tell someone to go back to their country, imagine what their life was like. They put up with the likes of you because they have no choice. Our vote is more important now, than ever before.
So to all my hyphenated-Americans, I say, make your parents proud. Make sure you live a better life than they had, and make sure your children have a better life than the one you have. That’s the best way to honor all the sacrifices made. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. If you didn’t go to college, make sure your kids do, and make sure their children do as well. We were given the wonderful opportunity of being born with an American passport, make it count for something, and once you do, stay humble and always remember your roots. Make sure everyone knows that all the sacrifices made were not in vain.
Make sure to always remember who you are. Like the famous scene in the movie Selena we hyphenated-Americans have to be “more Mexicans than the Mexicans, and more Americans than the Americans”. We’re not all Mexicans, so please substitute your own nationality, but the sentiment will be the same. Us hyphenated-Americans will never truly fit in to either side, but that’s why we create our own little Hyphenated-World. The odds are stacked against us, but we have to fight like our parents did. We have to stick together and rise above the statistics that tell us we will fail. Just because the teachers claim we will never amount to anything, it does not make it true. Prove them wrong, and help your friends prove them wrong too.
Now when I’m asked where I’m from (and I always get asked because I’m not American enough for the Americans) I make sure to say, ” I was born here, but my parents are from El Salvador. BOOM! Everyone’s happy! Cheers to all the hyphenated-Americans, especially the minority youth.