Do you remember the first time you were in school and they told you could be anything you wanted to be?
They’d say, “You can be an astronaut, a lawyer, or you can be the President of the United States of America. Because that’s what America is.”
I love that.
America was a kid that reached for the moon and landed there. America was a kid that wanted to be free and declared independence, wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. America was the original American dream. Before it was cool.
I love that.
Most people in that classroom could be any of those things. Except for a few of us who couldn’t. Who wouldn’t. A very few, small number of us for whom that rule, that beautiful ideal, would never be true. For one simple fact, we were not born here.
We could never be Presidents of the United States, no matter how much we wanted.
We would never be Presidents of the United States, no matter how much we tried.
And while we may have shrugged it off at the time, I can’t help but look around now and wonder why it’s true. How can that, be true? Because it feels so false.
It feels so un-American.
I wonder how America, the little immigrant kid that left home to create a better one would hold such a standard so close, embrace it so tightly.
Surely with all the speeches we hear about our founding fathers today, we’d be able to have some perspective on the conditions under which they made the decisions they made. Fear of foreign rule, fear of oppression, fear of… so many things. And desires too. The desire to be self-sustaining, autonomous, a life to pursue happiness, and the liberty to so freely.
It’s the same thing I wanted. It’s the same thing my parents wanted.
I look around today and see my parents share more commonality with the founders than much of the general population. A population that is the very product of achieving that ideal. A population, of whom a number of, tout the founders’ ideals as the reason for people like us to not have our opportunity to pursue the same things they can.
I have been a citizen of The United States of America for nearly 25 years now. And today, I see more and more that I share more in common with the second-class citizens of the world, than I do with America. Because the first time I heard that question, the promise that I could be anything, I knew it wasn’t true. I realized I was never going to be the President. For one simple fact, I wasn’t born here.
I could be a Senator, or a Congressperson, or even a Representative, but never the President.
There was already a cap on my potential. There was already a limit to my contribution. There was already an America, and it would never be me.
I wanted so desperately to believe that it would be. I so desperately wanted to believe that it could be. I want to believe so desperately that it should be. But it won’t.
I wonder, was America always meant to be a consolation?
I chase my happiness, because there is a desperation to the word ‘chase’ that ‘pursue’ does not have. I chase the life I want to live today because I could not pursue the life I wanted then. And while I have the liberty to do so, it’s with permission.
Then, I wanted to be the President of the United States of America. Then I thought, maybe I’ll just be America, the kid that went for it and got it. Then I thought, maybe I can just be American.
Now, I’m not even sure if America is American. Because if America then was told that she could be anything she wanted to be, I wonder if this is what she had in mind. I wonder, if you told her that I couldn’t be everything she could be, if she’d stand for that. I wonder if what she had in mind it would look anything like this America.
I feel this way because I so desperately want to believe that America would want to say to me I could be anything I wanted to be and mean it. I feel this way because I think that is what America wanted to be. That is what America could be. What she would be. What America should be. But isn’t. For one simple fact, we weren’t born here. Neither of us.
She was born a long time ago, in the hearts and minds of people that wanted something more for themselves, their children, their community. So they carried her and brought her here, where she would grow, learn, and find herself. And they gave her a name. Like my parents did for me.
They chased, so we could pursue. Without limits. Unencumbered.
I am certain that no teacher was considering the caveat when they made that beautiful pitch, the epitome of total and complete freedom and liberty. They were giving a group of kids hopes and ambitions, giving them examples of the heights people can reach under the stars and stripes. I’m certain that even if they meant to mislead some of us, to perhaps raise our expectations for ourselves, there was no malevolence in it. It was never meant to be a bait and switch. And for all of the joy that any natural-born American child should feel when they hear those words, because there is truth in them, we never did. For one simple fact, we weren’t born here.
For us, America was always a dream. Like it was for those that created her. And for some of us, she still is a dream.
Still we chase. Because I believe that maybe, just maybe, she’ll look over her shoulder, see us, and stop running. I believe that she knows we’re the same. And when she turns and faces us, we’ll laugh a little.
I’d say, “So here I am America, more America than America. You could say, I am out America-ing America.”
“I can think of a few fathers who did the same. More, but the same. But they had it easy. After all, they were born here,” she says.
And I realize that America didn’t make the caveat. America was not running away from me. America was and is still the promise she wanted to be. Like me, she wants to mean it when she says it. But she can’t. Because America, like me, still has to chase.
What I am beginning to understand is that those of the population who use the ideals of the founders as justification to keep people like me, who were not born here, from achieving the very things America wanted for me and still wants for me, they’re also the ones keeping America from achieving the very things she wants for herself. And though I’m not a natural-born American citizen like they are, I might actually be more American than they could be, would be, should be, and aren’t. After all, America and I were not born here.