July 4th was the Independence Day, the birthday of my adopted Motherland. Unlike the great majority of the citizens of this great nation, I am an American by choice, not by birth. My journey started in early winter of 1989, when my parents and I applied for permission to leave the old Soviet Union. We knew at the time that we wanted to come to America, but we did not know much. We knew that the free market economy makes more sense that the authoritarian economy of the Soviet Union. We knew that, unlike in the Soviet Union, people were free to criticize the government in America, if they so chose. We also knew that people were free to emigrate from America, if they so chose. We knew that there was no state-sponsored anti-Semitism in America, which was obviously important for us, as Jews. Finally, we knew that any problems we might have while living in America would not go against common sense, and their resolution would be entirely under our control. For example, the problem of making a living is a normal problem, but the one that can be resolved by an individual through hard work and perseverance. This is very different from not being able to get into college you want because of your ethnic origin or not being able to get an apartment simply because none are available. (I since learned that there are problems here that go against common sense, but those are few, not as bad, and generally result of the leftist policies resembling the practices of the old Soviet Union.) Since state-sponsored anti-Semitism was one of issues, we did consider going to Israel. But Israel was a second choice for us because from the information available to us at the time it seemed that Israel had too many elements of socialism (this turned out to be true, although perhaps not as bad as we thought).
And so, on September 2, 1989, we finally left the Soviet Union, and on November 15, 1989 we finally arrived in San Diego, CA, USA. From the beginning we were made to feel at home. People accepted us as new Americans, even though we just arrived and weren’t citizens yet. For the majority of people we encountered it did not matter that our English was heavily accented and limited. What mattered was the fact that we were trying to learn English and become Americans. We were welcomed with open arms. Later one of my co-workers told me that, even though I did not have the citizenship at the time, I was just as American as anybody else: after all, this is a nation of immigrants.
And what a great nation this is. Founded on the notion that all people have "unalienable rights… [to] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", it has never been perfect, but always strived to meet these ideals. There are other countries that are free, similarly to the United States. But only America was founded and exists to basically uphold the idea of liberty. There are other nations of immigrants, like Canada or Australia. But only America was created specifically as a place where persecuted people from anywhere in the world could find refuge. And even though sometimes the admission of refugees becomes somewhat limited, America always returns to being this place of refuge and always proudly proclaims: "…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" This great country has a national policy of "liberty and justice for all" and is not shy about it.
And so, after coming to this country with nothing 18.5 years ago, I am pretty happy with my life. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are not just empty words. It does not matter where you come from, or what your ethnic or religious background. As long as you play by the rules and want to be an American, you are. I am forever grateful for being admitted into this great nation. And I am proud to be an American. Yes, this is the song that gives me goose bumps. Enjoy!
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