Last Saturday, my Filipino grandfather was recognized for his service alongside the Americans during World War II. He died nearly 50 years ago, but my mother always made one thing clear: He had a fierce respect and love of the United States and hoped to one day give his family the opportunities the country offered.
My grandfather was never able to move his family there while he was alive, but decades later my family found ourselves moving to the United States from Canada. We had only been in the country for three days, without even a permanent place to live, when I woke up to my family crowded around the TV, watching the Twin Towers collapse. My parents nearly turned around and headed back north. Thankfully they didn't, and now, 17 years later, I've been able to fulfill a little bit of my grandfather's dreams.
Ten years later, when I was able to attend the swearing-in ceremony where my father — and I, by default — became citizens of the United States, I was overcome with an intense amount of gratitude. I reflected on my mother's father, who dreamed of coming to this country and was willing to fight for a land he had never seen. I thought about my great-grandfather on my father's side, who had taken a great risk in moving his family from Italy to Canada once rumors of war spread. It felt as though all their efforts had culminated in this moment.
I was now a citizen of a country that offered more opportunities and a greater chance at success than just about anywhere else I may have ended up, and it was all thanks to those before me. I had done nothing to deserve it. Only their firm beliefs and sacrifices had made it possible for me to be standing there, waving around a little American flag and knowing that we had finally made it. I was — and still am — determined not to disappoint them.
I'll be one of the first to admit that this country is not perfect. Things seem especially tough at the moment, with people becoming more divided and desperate to find solutions. The news is full of talk about conspiracy, acts of senseless violence and ever-growing tension.
I've experienced my own share of injustice and seen the less glamorous side of the country. I also know, however, that I am much better off here than I could be anywhere else. Being the only part of my mother's family that ever left the Philippines, I see how positively different, how lucky and blessed my life is compared to what it could be. I may not be the smartest or the most talented person, but I'm lucky enough to be in a place where I don't have to be in order to be comfortable and provide for myself and my family.
Today is not a day for pointing out the flaws in our political system or for fighting each other because of our differences — that regular programming can resume tomorrow. It is for remembering those who came before us, those who put their belief and hope in a country of opportunity and freedom before themselves.
Our editorial today mentioned that the aftermath of 9/11 made it clear that Americans are strongest when they are united. Those who have sacrificed for this country were united on at least one front: They believed that, despite its flaws, the United States was still the best place to be for a chance at success. It was worth their lives just to give all those who came after them that same chance. My grandfather believed it, so much so that he was willing to risk everything for just a chance that his posterity could take advantage of it.
Maybe today, Patriot Day, you can remember that dream and find a way to still believe in it, too.