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Independence Day Musings

An Immigrant’s Story

‘The American way is immigration, it always has been.’

By Candice Louisa Daquin

I have an English accent because I learned English in England. After nearly 20 years in the US this is an accent, I wish I could rid myself of, owing to the assumptions made. I’m neither English nor imperialistic and Independence Day has always been challenging with comments like: “Well your side lost!” shouted my way a few times. I want to say, we’re all universal now, we all come from a multitude of places, accents and skin color aren’t accurate reflections of anything so stop being small minded.

Despite this, Independence Day has grown on me. Why? If I didn’t grow up in America, why would it really relate to me? Neither English nor American, it was hard to relate to. But you know what helped? Getting naturalized. Granted. I didn’t grow up in American schools pledging allegiance to the flag. This does inculcate and cause a great deal of loyalty which has brought 50 states into relative harmony, which is more than the EU could ever achieve in Europe.

Binding together such a melting pot of differing cultures into one ‘American culture’ is what made America, American. This is no small thing. And when you are an immigrant, there is nothing more emotionally rewarding than gaining that foothold, that coveted opportunity, to be part of the American Dream. The only question is, does it still exist, the dream part?

I would argue it does. As much as economically I know we can’t go from cotton picking farmer to CEO quite as readily as once we did, and that there are striations and class divisions in this country, even as we deny them. Though racism and bigotry continues to deny swaths of society, and affirmative action, permits entry, it’s more complicated than a straight shot to success the way we might have once imagined it, in the 1950’s heyday.

As I wasn’t alive in those days, I can’t speak to whether they were mythologized but I can say, America was affluent after World War II in a way Europe couldn’t imagine, being decimated in every respect. As such, there were leaps and bounds made in America that weren’t mirrored in much of the rest of the world. Like anything, this didn’t last, and America is no longer the leader of the world, if ever it was. But the dream is still alive, maybe as much in our imaginations as reality. Maybe it’s the idea of it more than the actuality of it.

That said, people send their kids to American universities to help them succeed, almost against modern wisdom. There are better schools elsewhere but we are still somewhat spellbound by the lure of big recognizable names, just as Hollywood continues to thrive, despite larger industries like Bollywood. We are sentiment to the America of old, and as such, the modern America can benefit from this and it does.

Independence gave America more of her identity than she had when she was being bled dry by the English royalty. America exists because of immigration. Native Americans were slaughtered in droves in order to ‘make way’ for the hordes of then foreigners. Parts of Mexico (Texas, New Mexico, California) were essentially stolen (or rightfully won, if you read some history books) in unfair wars, the French stupidly sold Louisiana and the Russians sold Alaska. These pieces came slowly together, and when the British lost America, the idea of truly being unfettered came into being and painted the American psyche.

So aside the obvious connotations and a holiday for most American’s who might not consider the historical import of Independence Day, what else does it represent? For many immigrants such as myself, it represents a change from what was. I didn’t grow up patriotic to a country, that was a foreign concept, and yet, as I stood in the Naturalization ceremony and put my hand over my chest and sang the songs, and waved the flag, as absurd as it felt on one level, it also felt very meaningful. That surprised me and my friends ‘back home’ might laugh to read this, but that’s what happens when you immigrate, or what should happen, you become something new. To me that’s what Independence Day is all about, a way forward from who you were before. Most of us could learn something from that, as we tend to be stuck in our ways, unable to relate to change and new concepts. There still is something deeply alluring about America and it’s our ability to take in a great variety of different people from all around the world and still retain a sense of what being American is, including transmitting this feeling to those newcomers as they arrive.

For this reason alone, we should all be proud to be American. For all the negatives, such as continuing racism and oppression, poverty and sexism, there are so many positive things about being American and that’s why so many people try to immigrate to American every single year. It’s no coincidence we’re continue to be a highly sought country to live in, it’s not simply our perceived economic opportunities, it’s the whole enchilada and that includes this elusive concept of what ‘being’ American is.

Many of us even from other countries, grew up deeply influenced by Americana. That included the golden years and even what came afterward, because Americans are very self-confident and they really know how to put their best foot forward. Social media may have us believe all is negative because there are those who like to criticize and never say anything positive, but this doesn’t really change things as much as we think. People still envy our freedom throughout the world and it was a hard-won freedom that none of us should forget, no matter where we live and where we intend to live. Freedom is something to never take for granted, and in this sense, Independence Day is a universal theme, freedom from oppression and the right to self-expression.

I hope American’s remember how lucky they are and spend less time fighting and more time appreciating those things we tend to take for granted. I can have an opinion in this country that disagrees with everyone and nobody will come and arrest me and take me away. Even if people don’t like my differences, I am protected by law and allowed to be different. Those are liberties many people don’t have, and I am mindful of this when I think of traveling as a gay woman, or for that matter, as a woman!

That said, we should also be mindful that freedom can vanish almost overnight, unless we make the right decisions in how we vote, and be aware of plans to undermine freedoms. Those who believe immigration is wrong, often point to increased immigration leading to less jobs, more change and an erosion of The American Way. I don’t agree, because the American way is immigration, it always has been. Sometimes bad (killing Native Americans, taking African slaves). Sometimes good (growing a country from people from every part of the world). If it didn’t work to have immigrants, America as we know it, wouldn’t exist.

However, with population increases, come difficulties, not least a lack of jobs, economic opportunity. So, we cannot simply open the gates without due care to the realities of this. The answer lies in being merciful to those who need better lives, and realistic about what we can do versus what won’t work. Equally, we need to be mindful of those who live here now and meet their needs as much as we help others. I feel lucky I have had a chance for a better life but I also miss my culture and the nuances of where I came from. I want others to have the chance I had, and I believe if you work hard and you are an honest person, you should be given that chance. Where that may fall short is when a person from a different culture fails to realize part of immigration is accepting you are coming to a different country and you must respect that country. If say, you are a man who is used to disrespecting women because your home country condones that, you cannot bring those values to a new country and expect that to work. In this sense, immigrants must be as responsible as the host country in their success as an immigrant and respect the host countries values. I feel safer in America as a gay woman and as a woman than so many other countries throughout the world. I don’t want that to change, and I want women from countries that condone gender-based-abuse to feel they can come to America and be unmolested.

We all make America better, when we respect this delicate balance. I for one feel immigrants are the most likely to vote and be active in making change, because they are both grateful and excited to have the chance. When I was naturalized, I was asked if I would vote because it was part of my ‘duty’ as an immigrant to give my input. I have voted in every election and I try not to bury my head in the sand about anything that matters because I feel it’s my duty to have my eyes wide open, that’s how we keep our independence and our freedoms.

The Inscription reads as: GALVESTON WAS THE PORT OF ENTRY FOR THOUSANDS OF IMMIGRANTS WHO SETTLED IN TEXAS AND THE SOUTHWEST. FEDERAL LAYS ENACTED IN 1875 ENDED THE UNRESTRICTED ENTRY OF IMMIGRANTS INTO THE COUNTRY AND LED TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AREA’S FIRST U.S. IMMIGRATION STATION AT GALVESTON’S PIER 29. THERE U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICIALS CONDUCTED MEDICAL EXAMS, BAGGAGE INSPECTIONS AND FORMAL PROCESSING OF IMMIGRANTS. THOSE FOUND TO BE DISEASED OR INCAPACITATED FACED DEPORTATION. THE U.S. CONGRESS CHOSE GLAVESTON OVER NEW ORLEANS AS THE SITE OF A MAJOR NEW FEDERAL IMMIGRATION STATION IN 1906. PLANS TO BUILD AN IMPRESSIVE IMMIGRANT LANDING STATION ON PELICAN ISLAND COMPARABLE TO NEW YORK’S ELLIS ISLAND FACILITY WERE NEVER FULLY REALIZED. THE SCALED DOWN STATION, FULLY OPERATIONAL BY 1913, WAS DAMAGED BY HURRICANE WINDS IN 1915 ABD CLOSED IN 1916. tHE IMMIGRATION OFFICES WERE SUBSEQUENTLY RELOCATED TO A BUILDING ON GALVESTONS’S 21ST STREET.
A NEW 3-STORY IMMIGRATION STATION CONTAINING IMMIGRATION OFFICES, DORMITORIES, MEDICAL FACILITIES, A KITCHEN, AND DINING AND RECREATIONAL AREAS WAS COMPLETED HERE AT 1700 STRAND IN 1933. IT WAS USED AS AN IMMIGRATION AND DEPORTEE-STAGING FACILITY UNTIL ABOUT 1940 WHEN IT WAS CONVERTED FOR USE AS A U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICE. Photo and inscription courtesy: Creative Commons

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

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