That American Dream.

At this year’s Fourth of July dinner, the movie Gettysburg was on and I watched the Pickett’s charge scene. For me, it was a little emotional (I’m a crybaby) and it made me think about the unlikely series of events that has created the United States we live in; the almost two and a half centuries of disagreement that we have somehow managed to make it through. It is crazy to think that those soldiers are some of our ancestors. Life was so different then.

It also made me think about the differences between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives tend to dwell on the past heroes, the sacrifices that have been made for us and the honest deliberation that has come before us. Liberals tend to dwell on the future, creating an equal playing field for all of us, injustices, humanity, and ensuring a bright future for everyone. My question is – why do we think the way we do? Why do we have such different values?

One reason is perhaps because we have so many different experiences. Out of college, I taught English to language learning immigrants, mostly from El Salvador and Honduras- the two countries with the highest murder per capita in the world. In getting to know the stories of these teenagers, I came to understand the privilege I have always had living in America. I have had a handful of valuable things stolen in the past couple of years, but it’s the exception and not the norm. I have never worried about being killed. In contrast, my students from Central America had encountered theft, crime, and murder throughout their lives; they were surprised at and grateful for the safe and law abiding culture in America. These teenagers were simply fleeing violence, and I certainly admire anyone who works to escape crime.

In my classroom, I had a lot of different personalities and a broad spectrum of motives. On occasion we would sit in a circle and talk about ways we could contribute to our communities, in the present and after high school. I was moved when I found out that a few of my poorest students occasionally spent their Friday nights giving food to the homeless with their youth group. Some of my students planned and studied to be electricians, police officers, nurses, professional soccer players, or join the army. Many of my students supported their families by working night jobs until two or three in the morning, and then came to school exhausted. They were doing their absolute best 20 hours of the day. These are good people.

On the other hand, I had students who said that they came to America to live off the government. I had a student who was accused of rape and there were murders in the area by individuals in MS13. I am very in favor of immigration, but I can’t throw a blanket statement and say that everyone who wants to come to America should have that opportunity. This is a complex matter, and investing in a stronger immigration process would pay us great dividends.

I wish we had a diplomat for a president. If that person is ever elected, he or she could have a discussion with these countries– How can America help you curb corruption, crime, and murder in Central America? How could we help you create better education, infrastructure, and a more fluid economy? How can we support you in those efforts? Perhaps it’s quixotic thinking, but if these countries were safer, we would absolutely see a drop off in the number of refugees fleeing to America. In the meantime, at the border, we can certainly treat refugees as humans.

I have no idea how to wrap up this string of thoughts, so I’m not going to! 😂

Thanks for reading and indulging me. Have a great Friday, and watch Gettysburg if you’re feeling resolute.

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