Today we celebrate our independence day. Our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our freedom, and the opportunity to call ourselves Americans.
This time of year, I am reminded of my family’s story and our journey towards the American dream. I am also reminded of God’s faithfulness, of His provision and how He has carried us to where we are today.
I thought today would be a good day to share a snippet of my story in this country. A snippet of how we’ve wrestled and fought our way to become Americans.
My family and I moved to this country from venezuela in 1995 and my parents were very determined to make it. They took any and every job available, making just enough money to place food on the table for my brothers and I. They laid roofs, cleaned houses, cut hair and did all the grunt work just to make ends meet. At the time, we had no legal documentation, no work permit, no rights. we were illegal immigrants.
My parents drove us to football practice, band rehearsals, and church youth groups with expired drivers licenses (since after 9/11 they were no longer able to renew their license), each time praying that nothing would go wrong.
One evening, on our way back from church, all six of us were in my parents minivan when we were pulled over by a state trooper. We sat so still, like six statues gazing forward and knowing the repercussions that would await all of us if they asked for my dad’s license. We held our breath and pleaded that God would grant us favor. After what seemed to be the longest 5 minutes of our lives, the sweet police man told my dad that he had done nothing wrong. They pulled him over because they received a call about a van that looked just like ours and they wanted to make sure we were ok. My dad let out a sigh of relief, waived to the officer and we drove away with tears in our eyes and fear shooting down our bones. We made it one more day and counted our blessings.
This went on for most of our life in this country. It was a burden we lived with for years. It was our family secret.
When I graduated high school I was a recipient of the Bright Future scholarship that granted me a free ride to any state university. Unfortunately, I had to turn it down because without a green card, the scholarship could not be applied. At the time, I felt my dreams of going to college would remain just that, a dream. I reviewed my options, and decided to take on undocumented work in order to attend community college as an “out of state” student (each class costing about $1200). And that was my life… at least until the year I turned 21.
After 13 very difficult years, in the summer of 2008 we received a letter from immigration stating that our paperwork had been processed and we were on our way to becoming legal residents. My mom called me that night with the news. She cried while reading the letter and I cried with her on the other end. it was over. this no longer had to be our life. We could come out of hiding. I could finally be a student, get a drivers license, travel… we were finally granted our shot at the American dream.
Last year, we became US citizens. It was a bittersweet moment for our family. There was a point where we looked at each other and we all knew we were thinking the same thing. We did it. We made it.
Thinking about what today represents brings me back to the day we were sworn in and pledged allegiance to this country and this flag. I think about the men and women who fight for that freedom daily and who risk their lives so we can hold up a flag today with our loved ones. I think of the room full of “aliens” who stood shoulder to shoulder with us singing the Star Spangled Banner and for those who, just like we were, are flying below the radar hoping for a shot to pursue their dream.
I’m also reminded of something our dad taught us while we were enduring those long years of waiting. He would sit us all down and remind us that although we are fighting to belong in this country, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and our stay in this world is only temporary regardless of where we live. I am thankful for those lectures, for my parents determination and for today. I am thankful for this country and for the opportunities that this great nation has granted us.
Today I’ll wave a flag, grill something scrumptious and watch fireworks with my little family, remembering that we all have our own stories and our own struggles and that the beauty lies not in the struggle itself but in overcoming it. Isn’t that what this day is all about after all?
Have a wonderful 4th my friends. Here’s to being Americans!
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