In first grade I got in an argument with a substitute teacher. We were learning about Thanksgiving and Pilgrims. I raised my hand and said, very proudly, “My great-great-great-great grandma was a Pilgrim.”
“Yes, all of our ancestors were pilgrims.” He replied.
I got frustrated and tried to explain that my grandma was a REAL pilgrim, a came over on the Mayflower Pilgrim – not some second tier came over later pilgrim.
Looking back now, I realize that my teacher was right. It doesn’t matter that one of my ancestors came over on the Mayflower. That doesn’t make me any more American than anyone else. All of us who are not of Native American descent have pilgrim blood. We are all children of exiles, refugees, wanderers and criminals.
We are a nation descended from Unwanteds.
We are a nation of proud rejects.
We are a nation of ragamuffins striving to prove our worth, our value, to ourselves and to the world.
We are a nation of immigrants – of pilgrims.
Pilgrim means, simply, one who comes from afar. Often on a holy mission.
When I look at today’s modern immigrants to our country, I see that they too are pilgrims – looking for a better life, seeking the holy shores of “Freedomland”, seeking the same opportunity to pursue their happiness that our ancestors sought when they came, however many years or generations ago that occurred.
We owe so much of what makes this nation great to pilgrims, to immigrants, to people looking for the opportunity to build a better life for themselves – and therefore, for all the people around them as well. Because, when you build up your home, you help build up your neighborhood, your community, your state and nation.
As each new wave of immigrants has graced our shores, they have enriched the whole, bringing new foods, new ideas, new words, new ways of thinking, new solutions to old problems.
I know that among some groups there is a desire to seal off our borders and stop the flow, and I wonder if they remember that their family too once came to this country looking for asylum, packing only hope.
How was their family discriminated against when they arrived? What has their family contributed since? What did they bring with them from the old country? How have they woven their story into the fabric of our nation to make it better, stronger and more able to solve the problems of the modern world we’ve created?
Do they really believe that we are finished, that we don’t need fresh blood, fresh ideas, new perspectives?
This Independence Day, I want to take a moment to thank all the immigrants who have made this country what it is and to voice my opinion that we are not done yet. We still have much to learn. We still have room to grow in culture and knowledge. We still need to serve as a beacon of hope, a place where people can come to pursue their happiness and live in liberty to make not just their own lives better, but the whole world better.
Today, I want to thank the immigrants of the past who created a nation founded on the ideals of liberty, justice and equality for all.
I want to thank the immigrants of the present who continue to challenge us to hold to those ideals, and to truly extend them to ALL.
And I want to thank the immigrants of the future who, I hope, will help us finally realize that freedom for all does not diminish the freedom of some, that equality for all does not diminish the equality of a few, that, in fact, there is no freedom until we are equal – all of us, men and women, no matter the color of our skin, the accent of our words, or the sex of the person we love.
On this Fourth of July, I want to thank the immigrants for reminding us of the truth that ALL PEOPLE are created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, no matter their place of birth or the circumstances of their lives.