Our America

Holly - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Entered on July 30, 2008

I believe in America. A few years ago, I was the sort of person who “harrumphed” through the National Anthem, thought Memorial Day was a national picnic day and felt indifferent to world affairs. I was a typical American. But when I got a job as a Case Manager for Refugees, my life changed. I had a sort of patriotic awakening. I met people who had lived in refugee camps in the worst conditions: starvation, war, rape, murder. These people are incredible survivors. They were able to joke and laugh, and be patient. They had the patience of God when it came to waiting for resources. Upon arrival in their new world, I would pick them up at the airport and bring the families to their apartment homes. The families were amazed at the electricity, running water, toilets, and full refrigerators that greeted them. But the first and most important question was “When do the children start school?” As a kid, I thought it was too long and boring. Not the refugee kids. They had never seen a school or a computer. When I took the families to enrollment, we would tour the school. The parents’ eyes grew so wide and full of life. “Computers? In every classroom! Even for the little ones!!” They cheered.

Sometimes I would come home from work and cry. Not because I felt sorry for the refugees, but I was angry at myself and so many of my countrymen. We take for granted the smallest things in America: small to us, but a luxury to others. Like a free education. Knowledge is so powerful. It is the key to success. And these families know this.

It is very difficult to begin a new life in a Western world when you have no education, no experience with modern technology, and no understanding of the culture. There are many prejudices that you face. Finding employment and keeping it is a difficult challenge. The families knew this. They understood how hard it will be to adjust. It may take years, or even another generation to become Americanized. But this is the greatest gift they could give their children. Hope. Hope for the future. Hope for success. The refugees opened my eyes to what had been around me all along. The wonderful opportunities and beauty that is America. The many faces, colors, languages, religions, and cultures that make this country so unique and strong. America is the land of opportunity. It really is. If you have a dream, you can achieve it. And it took poor families, the lonely immigrants who only wanted safety and a chance to live, to open my eyes. Now I remember the ones we lost on Memorial Day, I thank my Veterans, I smile more and take pride in who I am: I am an American. And I am eternally grateful to the refugees for teaching me this.