The Immigrant Mind: An Immigrant Celebrates the Fourth of July

Luma Simms | July 4, 2017

The memories are faint, partly because my early years in America were so traumatic, and I’ve worked hard to shut them out. There was a profound sense of being lost, which overtook me soon after our arrival in the country; it has faded over the years, but it has never left. The second striking and enduring sentiment was the drive to become American – to fit in, into my new forever country, America.

Our first Fourth of July celebration, my father reminded me, was at a cul-de-sac neighborhood barbecue with fireworks and all. Pure Americana. My father was invited by a coworker. Hamburgers and hot dogs were new foods to me. I liked them! And of course there was Coca-Cola; no, there wasn’t one with the name “Luma” on it; back then America had not fully succumbed to such individualism. Coke cans and bottles came in what today would be called “classic” labeling. I knew 7-Up and Coca-Cola because we had those in Iraq and Greece – and I loved them.

The years following were spent mostly picnicking at Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif.; we would stay until dark and watch the fireworks. But the most memorable celebration of the Fourth of July was the year we received a free two-night stay at the Best Western on Lake Tahoe. My dad had gotten some kind of deal for buying a brand new Panasonic console TV. So we drove up to Lake Tahoe from Southern California and had our mini vacation. I still remember sitting on the beach of the lake watching the fireworks dance to the music blaring from the big speakers strewn across the sand.

America – my new forever country – was confusing to me. It was big and I was small. It was good and generous, but it could also be cruel and ignorant. It’s natural, when you are born into a country, to bear affection for it; it is part of who you are as a citizen. The bond between citizen and country is part of personal identity. No matter the reason an émigré leaves the country of his or her birth, in the leaving, the bond between citizen and country is severed and the individual must – or at least should – form a new bond with the adoptive country. This new attachment is part of assimilation. And so it behooves the immigrant, upon arrival, to quickly and sincerely look for qualities that will arouse affection for his or her adoptive country. I remember that even amongst my confusion in those early years, I had the desire to love my new forever country – and because of that desire I looked for things to love about it.

What I loved most was its high view of the human person. America embodies an ideal and desire to create a nation in which “all men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This high ideal gave me and my family hope, especially as Middle Eastern Christians coming from a part of the world that treated us like second-class citizens because of our Christian faith.

It wasn’t until I grew up and learned more about my forever country that I saw all of the ways in which it fell short of upholding a high view of the human person. What America’s Founding Fathers wrote in our founding document on July 4, 1776 – their perceptive words about what tyranny is, how it runs counter to God and nature to submit to it, and how man, though flawed, can nevertheless protect against it – has faded from the national memory; when it is remembered, it is usually twisted to serve a fleeting political end.

This Fourth of July, I recommend reading The Declaration of Independence to your family or friends before firing up the grill for those hot dogs. Never mind what the teachers are telling your kids in school. Take it upon yourself to learn this document and to teach it to your children. We as a people need to understand what the Founders were saying to King George and to the world. No matter what modernity has done for us, it has not vaccinated us and our leaders against the same despotic tendencies that plagued man back then.

Yuval Levin, Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote, “But we love America because it is lovely, not only because it is ours.” When it is not lovely, we must love it all the more. We must love it into loveliness, because it is through the act of loving that something or someone becomes lovely. Our country, America, is struggling right now, and there are times when it is even ugly. But we can’t give up on it. It is ours, it is lovely, and it must be made lovelier still.