This Thursday, I’ll be getting together with family to celebrate Thanksgiving for only the sixth time. I had never celebrated this holiday before 2017, because I’m an immigrant, and I wasn’t fortunate to live in America until then.
It’s been a hard road to get here. I left everything behind in my home country of Argentina. To make it through the legal immigration system, like others before me and since, I had to jump through rings of fire. So why did I go through all this trouble?
Some politicians and commentators paint the motivation of immigrants as nefarious: they claim we want to destroy America, we want to turn it into a version of some of the awful places we escaped. But the exact opposite is true of me. I didn’t come here because I hate America and want to see it burn, I came here because I value America immensely, and I want to see it live fully up to its founding principles.
I love America for its core, founding ideals; ideals that are universally inspiring and reflected in the freedoms we enjoy. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—these ideas recognize every person’s right to pursue their values, to live and work according to their own judgment and rise to the extent that their work and ability will permit. These ideas are also reflected in the ambitious American spirit—the innovation, the eagerness to work, produce and build. This drive brought to life some of the greatest scientific and technological innovations (from the internet to the first successful organ transplant), and the most important political document in the history of mankind: the Declaration of Independence.
Such is the power of these values and ideas that there are “Americans in spirit” all over the world who have never set foot here. I personally admired these ideas long before I was allowed to move here. I longed for and tried to live by these values, despite growing up in a Latin American culture hostile to individualism. My home country’s culture leaned increasingly towards socialism and authoritarianism—with the catastrophic material and spiritual consequences that are typical of leftist regimes. Despite this cultural influence, I felt attracted to American ideals more than the ones of my own country.
Looking at America from afar, I felt that that was the place where I belonged, and that being born elsewhere was an accident I needed to rectify. I am infinitely fortunate and grateful I was able to do so, because my life in America is beyond what I could’ve ever imagined six years ago. I came here with one goal in mind: to build a better life for myself by working hard in a career that I love—a dream that was getting more and more out of reach at home. I’ve only been here six years, but I’ve already accomplished these goals and more. I’ve reached a standard of living and degree of happiness I hadn’t experienced before. I have immense hope for the future—a future that I cannot imagine being able to reach elsewhere.
I am not an outlier, however. For generations, immigrants have come to America from all over the world in search of the same opportunities to build their lives here, to start businesses, to innovate. They’ve brought with them their ideas, drive and their love for this country’s virtues. They’ve revitalized this country. Andrew Carnegie, Ayn Rand, Sergei Brin—these are just a few examples of immigrants who have greatly influenced America.
I, like many other immigrants I know, came here not merely to avoid the many negatives of a home country that falls short of our ambitions or that is literally collapsing, but to pursue a positive that only America can offer: to achieve the best life I could possibly live. I didn’t want to go somewhere that would be only marginally better than my home country, I wanted to go where I knew I could maximize the possibilities of living my best life. This upward striving is distinctive to America and is uniquely possible here.
While I’ve had to overcome many obstacles to live here, and while I disagree with the un-American, anti-individualist views and policies of today’s political leaders, I never became disenchanted with the idea of America. I’ve always kept in mind that America’s foundational ideals are essentially good, and this is what always kept me pushing and fighting for this country to live up to the promises in the Declaration. I often wish some native-born Americans would see America through the eyes of immigrants like me.'America’s foundational ideals are essentially good, and this is what always kept me pushing and fighting for this country to live up to the promises in the Declaration.' Click To Tweet
This Thanksgiving, as we go around the table with my extended family sharing what each of us is grateful for, I’ll say the exact same thing I’ve said the previous five times: this year, as every other year since 2017, I am most grateful to be living in America.
This article was originally published by the Southern California News Group.