The slogan under our current president is “Make America Great Again” but having recently visited a “developing nation” aka Third World country, for a month I have a revitalized appreciation for the country I call home.
Though we are not perfect and still have much to learn and strive towards. Comparable to most other nations, America is already great.
Many of us focus our attention on the inequalities, injustices, and discrimination perpetrated by the bad apples. How can we not focus on these things? Almost hourly the media depicts our faults and exacerbates issues. Being, in general, a nation whose Constitution (literally and figuratively) is based on idealistic principles it is in our nature to strive for justice, equality, freedom and a higher standard of living for all. When there is an apparent absence of these ideals it is easy to forget how lucky, dare I say privileged we truly are as Americans.
Have you ever wondered how it is you managed to be so fortunate? In all the places on this earth, in all times throughout history you and I live here, now. This is a circumstance I have often pondered. Had my grandmother not decided to board that plane with her two young children 48 years ago and migrated to the U.S. I could have just as easily been born a different person or not at all. Yet somehow all the circumstances, past and present, brought my ancestors here to America and by some miracle I am alive during this century born in California of all places.
I did not grow up with money. In fact, I grew up relatively poor by American economic standards. Growing up we could not always afford the electricity or water bills, my clothes were hammy downs from my cousins, and my parents often had to go without in order to feed my brother and I. My fiancé and I lived in a travel trailer for two years, which in some circles is considered about as “trashy” as can be. But we had a goal and a plan and were able to save money, dollar by dollar, to be able to rent a beautiful home. I recognize that not all born in America are able to do this due to one or more restraints. However, according to the truth I have learned. The standard of living, even at my economically poorest, was far greater than that of people living in the developing world.
During my time in India I stayed with two families. Both of which are considered relatively well off by Indian economic standards. Yet they still did not have certain amenities that we take for granted here in the U.S. like: indoor air conditioned grocery stores; healthy food choices (except in food deserts); toilet paper; waste management systems; freedom of space and movement; freedom of expression; even freedom of dissension!
As a young woman the contrast between our human rights and those of our Indian counterparts is even greater. One of the Indian students I got to know told me that before a girl reaches adulthood she will most likely be molested or raped. Though this is not considered acceptable, it is the reality, it is the standard. What’s worse is that when a girl is molested or raped, rather than being considered a victim she is often thought of as having provoked it with a look, her clothing, being at the wrong place at the wrong time… etc.
One woman, in the village I was volunteering in was so malnourished and had been so poisoned by the water that all five of the children she had either died in utero or shortly after birth. Her life and the lives of a majority of women in India is fraught with maltreatment.
In America, thanks to the battles fought by our great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers my generation of females has a voice, we have a right to our opinions, we have a right to choose, we have a right to live for more than servitude to our fathers and husbands. Hell, we have a right to marry another woman or not to marry at all. In short, we have a right to be true to ourselves; to nourish our souls.
What’s more, not just as women but as countrymen (of all genders) we have the ability to stand up against oppression and oppressive practices. Yes, there is still injustice and oppression that needs to be addressed; but the fact remains that as a nation we can come together to fight for the rights of humanity and actually be heard.
We are an idealistic nation and to reach those ideals we still have much work to do, but we CAN. Let us not allow a few bad apples ruin the bunch. Let us continue to strive for better. We rise by helping others. America doesn’t need to be great again. America is already great and has the potential to be even better. Many immigrants come to America because they see us as a beacon of hope. Let us continue to be that beacon despite trials and tribulations.
Lastly, I would like to say something to our service members. I know that for many of you when this is said it can be infuriating because it often sounds ungracious and self-serving. I recognize that I do not know the extent of sacrifices you made for us, for me. I pray that I never have to know that burden. I have seen, vicariously, the burden you bear upon returning home to and interacting with a civilian public that is all to often oblivious, discourteous, arrogant and reprehensible. In fact, I have heard many veterans wonder out loud what they fought for upon observing such blatant disrespect. People with such views are not the only ones you fought for. You also fought for, sacrificed for people who strive everyday to remain humble and grateful for the lives we are so fortunate to live. Words alone can not express this gratitude, only actions. Through my actions may I do right by you. Through actions may I do right by humanity. Through actions my I do right by life.
It is you and all those who served before you that has given Americans the freedoms we all too often take for granted. The true idealists, that see the current status quo and say “just because it is this way doesn’t mean it has to be. It can be better, we can be better.” The freedom to choose, to live, to roam, to be. The freedom to strive for better, the freedom to get upset over worthy as well as absurd causes. Why? Because as a collective we go relatively unoppressed. Because as a collective we have a voice. Because as a collective we can stand up for what is moral, just and humane.
Sophia D. Bogner is a recent Humboldt State graduate. She is a strong advocate for community outreach and holds a community cleanup every second Saturday of the month through the Arcata Veterans Hall.