I’m proud to be an American because I’ve lived without freedom

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I was born in the Soviet Union. Every July 20, I celebrate the day my mother and I arrived in America.  

Our family arrived in waves in the late 1970s. My grandmother and her sister were allowed out first. Then my father. Then us. We didn’t know if we would see each other again. The Iron Curtain could be pulled shut at any time. We left family behind. My mother never saw her father again. Nothing about it was easy. 

The late ‘70s were not America’s glory days. Inflation was high, crime was everywhere, there was an energy crisis. But more than any of that, there was a crisis of identity and the pervasive idea that America was not that great and not worth saving. There’s a reason Ronald Reagan was such a popular president, winning 49 states in his re-election bid: he reflected America’s greatness, and he did not for one moment allow Americans to forget how lucky they were.  

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This July 4th, so many people took to social media to say they were disappointed in their country, that they didn’t feel like celebrating it. They were mad about the Supreme Court. They were angry at their fellow Americans. 

I'm proud to be an American because I've lived without freedom

First Lady Nancy Reagan looks on as President Ronald Reagan is sworn in during ceremonies in the Rotunda beneath the Capitol Dome in Washington on Jan. 21, 1985. Reagan, forced indoors by a record inaugural freeze, reenacted his oath taking and sounded a second term dedication to his conservative principles. 
( (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds))

The luckiest people in history somehow don’t know it. Their faces blue from holding their collective breath until they are given even more than they have already. The people who have woken up on 3rd base, who have been blessed through the accident of birth to live their whole lives in the greatest, freest country the world has ever known, are somehow still unhappy with their lot. It’s sometimes too much to bear. For those of us who have family who have never tasted this freedom, this spoiled, miserable, ungrateful class of people can be particularly galling.  

They don’t know how lucky they are, and they don’t know how their unappreciativeness looks to the rest of the world. Only the comfortable and the free can take to their Instagram and trash something so good.  

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I’ve spent my life as a free person in a free place but every July 20, and so many days in between, I think about how it all could have gone so differently. Our lives were on one track and then a miracle switched us to another one. I got to grow up American. I got to have American children. The people who hate on America, on our Independence Day, have never had the discomfort that comes with the lack of freedom. Their privilege shows in every word they say.  

It’s easy to dismiss them, these children throwing a tantrum. But they’re moving us away from each other. They’re severing our collective binds. They target July 4th, Thanksgiving and all the other days when we should pause and reflect, so that we don’t celebrate the obvious bounty of our lives. It keeps us angry and bitter, despite having everything. Our ungraciousness is good politically. It keeps people engaged. But it tears us apart.   

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My Americaversary is a pause for me to say a quiet thank you to the country that took us in and has given us so much. But the calendar is filled with days for all of us to pause and do the same. Don’t let the entitled few take it from us. We are lucky every single day to be Americans, and we can’t ever forget that.  

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