A nightmare has been haunting me since I left China. In those terrible dreams, I go back home to see my elderly parents, then I get trapped in China, and find no way back to the United States. Many times, I woke up from the nightmare with pounding heartbeat and drenched in sweat. I pinched myself to make sure it was only a bad dream and said in utter relief, “Thank you God, I’m still in America!”
I shared my nightmares with a Cuban immigrant friend, and he said that for the longest time after leaving Cuba he also used to have the same nightmares. This is a personal trauma caused by a Communism regime, but experienced after settling in the United States. After living in an oppressive system and going through darkness, we feel so grateful to America. Subconsciously, we fear that we may lose the privilege of living in the land of the free.
It was America that made me dream again.
When I first came to the United States, some American friends asked me, “What was your dream in China?” My answer was always “I don’t know” or “I didn’t have any dream in China.” My American friends often felt surprised at my reply, but I was telling them the truth. Like me, many Chinese have no dreams. Since the government controls everything, an individual’s dream becomes an illusion in a totalitarian system. When dreams are illusory and unrealistic, our minds automatically suppress and block the ability to dream.
It was in the United States that I could dream again. It was America that changed me and offered me opportunities to dream big. My relatives and friends in China told me that to change my career and pursue higher education beyond a Bachelor’s degree was daydreaming, because I was a middle-aged woman. Against all odds, I obtained my Ph.D. in education and found a job that I had never dreamed of in China.
People from all over the world risk their lives to reach the American dream
Living in America is an honor and a privilege. However, not every U.S. citizen or resident feels this way. Once my Sunday school teacher asked the class, “What do you think of Americans?” Most of the Sunday school attendees were new immigrants from countries such as Nigeria, the Philippines, and Colombia. “Americans are spoiled,” a gentleman from Nigeria replied. “Why do you think Americans are spoiled?” asked our teacher. The Nigerian gentleman answered, “They don’t appreciate what they enjoy.”
While his answer may not be one hundred percent correct, it leads us to think how immigrants risk their lives for the American dream. If we search news about immigrants, we often see reports like the following:
- Illegal immigrants from over 100 countries try to crack into US every year (New York Post, 4/10/2019)
- Migrants From India, Romania, Venezuela And Other Far-Flung Places Contribute To Record-Breaking Arrests At U.S.-Mexico Border (Forbes, 10/22/2021)
- At least 650 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 (CNN, 12/9/2021).
- A total of 234,088 migrants crossed the southern border in April, topping March’s 22-year high of 221,444, including a record 34,821 from Cuba and 20,118 from Ukraine. Lifting Title 42 could send an even bigger surge of up to 18,000 migrants a day, administration officials say. (New York Times, 5/19/2022)
- In the recent smuggling episode on the U.S.-Mexico border, at least 53 migrants have died after dozens of bodies were found in an abandoned tractor-trailer in sweltering heat on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas (Fox News, 6/29/2022).
As we can see, many people risk their lives to come to the United States. While economic reasons, fleeing from wars, and escaping from political or religious persecutions are all valid answers to why they risk their lives to come to America, we should not ignore one fact, that is, all immigrants, regardless of whether the come to this country legally or illegally, believe that America can give them a better life.
America was the first country on earth that was founded on the belief that men are born with certain God-given rights ― life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ― and government should not use its power to take these rights away. While this country is far from being perfect, “the United States is the freest, most innovative, most prosperous nation the world has ever seen.” It is worth risking one’s life to come to America, “one nation, under God… with liberty and justice for all.”
Freedom is not free; it is our duty to defend America.
Freedom is not free. The National Anthem tells us how Americans in centuries past sacrificed their lives to fight for freedom against tyranny. On Independence Day, I encourage all people living in America, especially immigrants, to spend some time appreciatively rethinking the freedoms and the opportunities we are enjoying. Isn’t our duty to defend the American dream, just like the Founding Fathers?
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
God Bless America!
Happy 4th of July!