From the moment I first saw a helicopter land in the rice fields of my small town in the Philippines when I was a kid, I was captivated. I wanted to fly. I never thought I’d ever get to fly anything but the homemade kites we used to make out of cement bags and bamboo sticks.
Then I got an amazing, life-changing gift: opportunity.
America, the Land of Opportunity
When I was about 10 years old, my mom brought me to the United States. She had come to the U.S. many years before with only about $200 in her pocket when she stepped off the plane. She made a life for herself, and when she was finally able, she brought me. She eventually met my dad, and he later adopted me. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
My mom and dad are amazing people — caring, salt of the earth, hard-working people. Thrift shops and Goodwill stores were our malls when I was younger, and to this day I feel a sense of excitement when I enter one. My parents gardened in the backyard, spent their money frugally, and continued to save for part of that American Dream: their own house.
I hated when my mom forced me to do my English and math with chalk and a chalkboard in our small hallway. With that tough love, she would always say, “When your grandfather was a young man in the Philippines, he helped take care of a farm. Then one day, they took it away. And so, he told me, ‘Go to school. People can take away your clothes and your house and your farm, but they can’t take away your education.’”
Although I never did become a pilot, I did get to fly in some of those planes I dreamed of flying. As the saying goes, sometimes we create our own opportunities. And sometimes, some of us don’t work hard enough to make our dreams a reality, but that’s on me, not the system. Nothing, not opportunity nor education, is ever guaranteed without sacrifice or hard work.
My experience isn’t special. I’m just a kid from a rice-farming town. Given the same opportunity, any of my relatives in the Philippines right now would love to come here to pursue the American Dream, and I have no doubt they would achieve it — irrespective of their background, skin color, accent, or any other perceived racial or economic disadvantage. Some of them are pursuing it right now.
This is America, after all, with better opportunities and freedoms than the place they would leave behind. They are proud, smart, hard-working, and family-loving people. The only difference between them and all Americans is that we are here in the land of opportunity, a land where your success is directly proportional to your effort. A land where freedoms and liberties are enshrined on old parchment papers, and bled for by young men and women.
If You Don’t Want to Be Here, Leave
I can’t help but wonder why statues of the Founding Fathers are being toppled and why people are calling to defund police. I can’t help but wonder why the push for racial parity is being hijacked by some to a dangerous phase where the worth of one race is extolled above others to the point that saying “all lives matter” is now deemed racist.
To those who hate this country, look at all the people who want to come here and become U.S. citizens. This nation is imperfect, but it is still a great country — many would contend it’s the greatest. If America is not a good fit for anyone because it is so horrible, they can leave it and go to another country. No one is stopping them from renouncing their U.S. citizenship and making room for somebody who wants to be here.
If people choose to stay, however, to make America a better place together, let’s exercise “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” enumerated in the Constitution. Let us not put each other down with name-calling, not topple statues, not set fire to neighborhood businesses, not riot and throw frozen water bottles, not loot stores for electronics, and certainly not kill others.
Being an American Is a Privilege
I recently had a discussion with someone who was born in the United States. Our viewpoints differed, and he hinted it may have something to do with my privilege. Excuse me? Let me hint at something.
If you grew up with lights and electricity in your house instead of kerosene lamps and candles just so you could read at night or feel safe, you have privilege.
If you have indoor plumbing instead of having to go outside and hand-pump your water out of the ground, you have privilege.
If you can sit on a porcelain toilet instead of between two bamboo trunks to go to the bathroom, you have privilege.
If you have shoes under your feet instead of flip-flops cobbled together with safety pins because you can’t afford new ones, you have privilege.
If you have more than two or three outfits instead of using the same ones over and over because you can’t afford more, you have privilege.
If you can throw your clothes in a washing machine instead of having to go to the river to hand-wash them, you have privilege.
If you feel safe during storms instead of having to worry about whether your thatched roof will leak again or if the typhoon will sweep away your house and family, you have privilege.
If you can reach into your cupboard for your box of Uncle Ben’s instant rice instead of having to harvest the rice fields, lay out the rice onto the street to dry it under the sun, use the wind to separate the husks from the rice, bag it, and then store it in a warehouse and hope the rats don’t eat it, you have privilege.
If you have a car to get where you need to go instead of having to pack yourself like sardines into an old Jeep with questionable safety, you have privilege.
If you can microwave food or grab Pop Tarts from your kitchen instead of having to dig up potatoes in your yard or steal guava fruits from your neighbor, you have privilege.
If you had an Atari, Nintendo, or Xbox instead of having to carve your own toys from a tree branch or use a Campbell’s soup can to make your own toy car or scrounge for coconut husks around town just so you can play a game, you have privilege.
If you live under an economic system that allows you to work hard, persevere, and be creative to pull yourself out of poverty and rise into your own definition of success instead of toiling with the same amount of blood, sweat, and tears only to be limited by a government filled with corruption and nepotism, you have privilege.
If you live in a country where fundamental human rights and liberties are protected by a Constitution with its ingenious system of checks and balances instead of a country where your rights depend on who is in power, you have privilege.
If you live in the United States of America instead of a Third World country, you have privilege.
Make America Better Together
The difference is that people who come to this country don’t throw around that “privilege” word as if to highlight some victimhood. They keep to themselves, work hard and smart, realize how special this country is, believe in the American Dream, and go after it. They’re just happy to be here.
This country has disparities that still need to be addressed, but they are complex, just as complex as the history behind it all. A real, meaningful solution will be equally complex.
We must work together, not by marginalizing or denigrating those with a different point of view. In putting down and belittling the voices of other people, we miss out on the opportunity to talk to one another — and we may very well inadvertently silence those who would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us to effect change.
In the end, this is still our country. Despite all its imperfections, America is still the shining beacon of hope for all mankind. Just ask anyone who wants to come here.
We can make it better — not through name-calling, not through riots, not through violence, not through erasing history. But together.