IT TOOK ME FIVE YEARS to understand July 4th. To Americans, it might be fireworks, hotdogs and flags.
At first I thought it was just a celebration with rambunctious English-speaking folks. Five years later, the meaning evolved much deeper. Umwelt theory, the perception that our “reality is the only reality out there,” plagued me. The United States’ Independence echoes salvation from my own naive realism.
|Liberty Station :: naval base in San Diego, CA|
Here in America, I feel safe as a woman. I am respected as an athlete, scholar, intern and colleague. Growing up, I knew better than to wear “womanly” clothes in our Cavite neighborhood. That would just draw attention from tambays. But here in my work, a professional setting with digitized door locks, cameras, sexual harassment laws and college-educated peers, I can wear heels and skater skirts without fear. I often hike for hours just by myself. I’m free to dress, speak or project as I pleased.
In the Philippines where the divide of the rich and poor are so obvious, being in the latter restricts your life’s outcomes. Whereas here, I am compensated equal to my skill. They say, “poor Americans have no excuse,” because truly, this is a country where you can work hard and elevate your social class. Most of the world’s millionaires live in the US; 92% of them are entrepreneurs. Countries like India has a caste system; revolts in Somalia and Niger make them the most dangerous places in the planet. And the United States? You are free to work as hard as you wish and invest your salary to a comfortable retirement.
Although not as rich as Luxembourg or as education-savvy as Sweden or as eclectic as Japan, in the US, one can enjoy First World Living. Fresh and varied produce, clean water, fast internet, paved roads, efficient retail service, and overall reverence for business and innovation. My library accounts in San Francisco and San Diego has had me borrow over 100 books, audiobooks, and DVDs for free. I received an almost-free private art school education. (“The more education you have, the more opportunities you get, therefore the better quality of your life.”)
My five years living here pales in comparison to America’s 238th year of independence. At first, I could not understand why Americans celebrated it rather too enthusiastically. Only now after reaping the benefits of living here, had I experienced the downsides: piles of immigration paperwork, white supremacy, seasonal living, consumerism, and worst of all, tax.
I did not need at all be ignorant. But I had to live it first. I had to experience and feel in my bones the good and bad sides of being an American. I’m not a tourist; I’ve lived here long enough to know both sides of the coin. It took five years. Thank you, America – Happy July 4th.
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