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America, the Great

I am Leah. I am French, Armenian, and Belgian, and I am an American. My father’s mother came to the United States after World War II from France; His father’s father narrowly escaped Turkey during the Armenian Genocide. The Barterian’s have been in this country for less than 3 generations. I am the grandchild and great-grandchild of refugees. I would not exist if it weren’t for the hospitality of the United States of America.

Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about that hospitality. We hear the phrase, “Freedom isn’t free” a lot. Do we know what it means, though? Really, really know?

I’m not a history scholar by any means. In fact, it’s a widely known fact that I slept through my senior year of history class. I do, however, know that the pilgrims left England in search of a “new world.” Men, women and children risked their lives in hopes of one thing: religious freedom. They left their countries and got onto a boat with absolutely no guarantee that they would make it to the other side, simply because their freedom was that valuable, that important, and that vital to their growth.

Today, we call those people refugees and immigrants, fleeing from oppression and poverty. I call them memere or great-grandpa. Some call them criminals and rapists. And yet, at the end of the day, they are here, trying to do better. All of them? No. I won’t make the mistake of generalizing an entire group of people because that would be outlandishly ignorant of me. But most of them? Yes.

Freedom isn’t free. No, it’s not. Freedom takes hard work and discipline and the promise to not go back from whence we came. But with the nonstop stream of political information that we are fed, that very honestly, we don’t even know the validity of because we are not on the inside track, I really got to thinking about that phrase, and the idea of not going back, and the lives that have been sacrificed to keep us free. There have been many lost, and there will be many, many more. There will always be war and evil to defeat. Sons and daughters will leave for battle and not return. Heartbreak is guaranteed. But freedom is worth the loss. This, we, as a country, have predominantly agreed upon.

I’ve seen stickers and hats and t-shirts and buttons and all kinds of stuff sporting the phrase, “Make America Great Again,” and I gotta be honest, this pisses me off, and not because of the candidate. It offends me because America IS great. America is the greatest country in the world. America, on its 240th birthday, once again proved to everyone that freedom is attainable and real and worth the risk. America hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s us. It’s the Americans. WE are the problem.

We don’t need to work on our country. We need to work on ourselves. 

Where do we start? Well, first, we recognize our past and admit that not too long ago, we were doing things very, very, very wrong. 100 years ago, blacks and whites didn’t use the same bathrooms and women didn’t vote. We start by never putting limits on people groups again.

Secondly, we understand that the constitution was penned over 200 years ago before there was nuclear war or school shootings or social media or race riots, and therefore, will change. CHANGE IS GOOD, Y’ALL. Change isn’t scary or a sign of a rapid decline. It’s the opposite, actually. Will everything change? No, it won’t. And some things shouldn’t change, like our basic rights as individuals of this fine nation. But at the same, time, let’s not be so naive to think that our rights supersede the rights of others. I don’t have the same needs as you, and you as me. This is why change is necessary.

I am proud to be part of a country that has questioned a constitution that was formed without the presence of people of color….any color…besides white. I don’t think it’s wrong to expect and demand progression in our young country. Young, Leah?  Uh, yeah. I went to a pub in England that was older than the entire United States. We are a baby nation, still growing, with stretch marks and scars and growing pains and it’s not always going to be comfortable. But what’s the alternative? Should we not grow?

Is halting growth the thing that will “make us great again?”

If keeping people out of our country and alienating entire people groups that are searching for the same freedoms that the very people that founded our country is what would make us great again, I don’t know if I want to be “great.” If cultivating a culture of fear and a resonating “What could happen tomorrow” is what would make us great again, count me out.

Should we be on guard? Yeah, of course. Should we act like little, delicate flowers blowing in the wind, not wanting to offend anyone or stand up for ourselves? No, of course not. If you think that’s what I’ve been saying, then you’re not listening. What am I saying?

Freedom doesn’t revolve around fear. We don’t teach our kids the true beauty of freedom by teaching them to be afraid of people who are different then them. We don’t cultivate freedom in the lives of those around us by demanding that everybody worship like us, or look like us, or wear their hair like us, or talk like us, or “speak American,” which is, by the way, not a language. We don’t explain freedom to our kids with agendas that only include the way that we think and feel and act. This, my friends, is exactly how to be not free.

Freedom isn’t free because being free is not for the cowardly and afraid. And tolerance and kindness are not a sign of cowardice. It’s a sign of somebody who is strong. And resolute. And free.

If we want to be a truly free nation, and continue to be great, not rising to some level of “greatness” that is perpetrated by the idea of a constant threat posed by our neighbors, than we need to advocate for the original values that this country was put in place to uphold.

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all Men are created equal”

That’s the first line of the declaration of independence, signed on this day in 1776 if y’all wanna argue. Why is it the first line? Because that’s what’s most important.

This is what my grandfather’s both fought in wars for. This is what our founding father’s dedicated their entire lives to. And this is what people still, today, are searching for: equality.

That’s it. That’s the only thing that we need to know, the only thing that we need to focus on. We don’t need to Christian it up and make it an issue of gay vs. straight or Church vs. Mosque or Hillary Vs. Trump. We don’t need to do any of those things to treat people as equals. Those are things that we CHOSE to do, but not the things that we need to do.

We just need to remember what this country was built on: the idea that we’re all the same, and we all want good things for us and our families. Because if we remember that, we will remember to not clump people together based on the disgusting acts of a few. If we remember that, racism will cease to exist. If we remember that, we will grieve with our neighbors instead of judging them when tragedy strikes. If we remember that, we will become more sympathetic, more understanding, more helpful, more determined, more AMERICAN.

If we remember that, we will be free of everything that tries to stop us from being free.

We are the greatest nation in the world. We are growing. We are not going back.

And I am Leah. I am French, Armenian, and Belgian, and I am an American. I am the grandchild and great-grandchild of refugees. I would not exist if it weren’t for the hospitality of the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.

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