By Abe Villarreal
Every time I check the mail, I am reminded about how great it is to be in America. Seems funny, but getting your mail, usually on time, in that little box at the end of your driveway seems like a very American thing.
I was watching a news story on television some time ago, and an immigrant from a third-world country expressed how special she felt as a new American because she received her mail without even thinking about it. We take these things for granted.
How about dialing 911? Not everyone in the world can do it. In about two seconds, we can dial this universal number and get emergency assistance. We don’t have to worry about paying for it or even giving the operator a good reason. Help is on the way. That too feels American.
In America, we get these perks by birth. It would be un-American to ask for help and not get it when you need it. The thought of it seems pretty silly, but our privileges as citizens of this great country come in big and small ways.
Public schools? They are for everyone, and they are in every community. Television sets? Rich and poor have them, and most of us own more than one. Free wifi? Now we’re talking. Before you know it, internet access will be available in every remote corner of the country, not just in a McDonald’s.
These “free” things come to us through our privilege of circumstance. Our parents and grandparents made decisions for which we benefit from today.
I remembered this in a dramatic visit to Ellis Island over a year ago. As the ferry drew closer to Lady Liberty, I too felt the power of the symbolism of freedom. I ran my fingers across a long wall that was engraved with endless names of immigrants. An Italian-American friend of mine was looking for his great-grandparents hoping to find the mention of a couple who decided that America was the new home for an old-world family.
The names listed felt foreign, but like a lot of the rest of America, what is once strange soon becomes familiar. I know this because as the years pass by, we become more accepting. We learn to appreciate differences.
The traditions and cultures that are created in faraway places somehow come together in a celebration of what it is to be American – different and yet as one.
America really is something. And you know what else feels American? Summertime. It’s just around the corner. Hot dogs, fishing, barbecues, family vacations – they are all American. And if we want everyone in the world to be like America, we should welcome them to America.
Everyone should get to dial 911 without hesitation. We should all, without worry, get to drop mail in those funny blue things on street corners. That too is American. I love this country because it’s all these things and I want these things to be for everyone.
Thinking of these peculiar privileges reminds me of a few other characteristics that are very American: sharing with others, helping those in need, caring for the sick, and feeding the hungry.
I hope we don’t forget that these too are what should be an essential part of the American experience.