I was eight years old when I moved from Greece to America. I don’t recall being afraid during the ten-hour plane ride from the city of my birth to the city where my adoption would be finalized. I don’t remember much of anything during that trip, but I do recall all the hoopla that took place before I left Athens for New York. My birth family painted wonderful images of America. It was a place of dreams and opportunities that were unimaginable for someone like me in Greece. My family treated me like I was destined for greatness, feeding the aches in my belly with my favorite Greek dishes, and replacing the emptiness in my eyes with pictures of tall, splendid buildings and roads paved out of gold. In school, my teacher taught me English phrases, had me write them on the board, and asked me to translate them to my peers, preparing me for my new life as an American. My friends were impressed, and so was I. Everyone around me was so excited about my new journey to America that I began to believe it was better for me as well; and of course, it was.
Having only known sadness and loss, America was introduced to me as a land of gain and access. When my family gave me up, it felt as if my country was also abandoning me, so I clung to the idea of America; I hugged her soil, her gardens, and her winds with the ardor of someone who had nothing more to cling on to. America was my savior, my second chance –she was my last chance, and where the city of my birth was willingly relinquishing her maternal rights to me, America, in all her glory and selflessness, was calling to me, voluntarily adopting me, and desiring to call me her daughter. Since that day in October of 1979, America has been my home, my country, my motherland. In embracing a tortured soul like mine, with roots torn and gnashed, unkempt and uprooted, she gained my trust and my loyalty — and anyone who has ever been turned away and abandoned understands how deeply intense the trust and loyalty of an orphaned child is.
An immigrant child, I still remember standing before a judge, along with other like-minded immigrants, swearing our allegiance to our new country before a judge. My right hand was raised, my eyes were glossy with wide-eyed faith and hope, and my lips moved faithfully, tracing my tongue gently along the words I had memorized with which to honor the country that had taken me in. And when the immigration officer asked me, an eight year old, if I would fight for my new country, I looked her straight in the face, and I said, “yes.” “No,” my adoptive mother told the woman, shaking her head, and reminding her that I was young and I knew not what I was committing to. But I hushed my new mother by waving my arm at her, and told the officer, with the vehemence of unrestrained innocence, that I knew exactly what I was saying: “Yes, I will fight for my country.” I owed America that much.
I am not eight years old anymore, and I do not want to don military weapons and uniforms unless I have to, but I still love my country. I don’t consider myself a Greek-American, because I am all American. I believe in this country, in the freedoms it provides and the many religious, political, and social allowances that it makes for its own citizens as well as for its non-citizens who have found refuge and security in our land, legally or illegally. I am proud to be an American, even when I go to other countries, including Greece, who like nothing more than to bash our country and spit in our American faces. I am proud to live on American soil, and I am thankful for all the advantages that this country affords me and all the people that choose to live here, whether they come by plane, sneak in through borders, or hide in cargo ships to get here. America is the land of the free, the home of the brave, and a place of asylum. It is the only country that offers refuge, freedoms, opportunities, and a better future for our children for the simple price of hard work and dedication.
I am not naive, and I am not blinded by the atrocities that take place in our country — the corruption, or the debasement of our laws, the Constitution, or the government. They exist, they are ever-present, and they taint the way we think and regard our place in life. But that is not America — it’s people — government officials that we have voted into power, businesses that we support, and greed that we participate in by being mindless consumers. People are corrupt, greedy, and debased, and they taint that which represents honor, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Despite the flaws with which they tarnish America, I am still an American, and I am still a patriot. I love this country and all that it stands for. I love the people that fight in war-ravaged countries on our behalf, to uphold our rights and the liberties that we take for granted because we are Americans, and because we have it better than most countries beyond our borders. People sacrifice family, homes, and their lives to find a place among us, and we are fortunate to live here. I look around me and know that I have what I have because I am an American and because I live on American soil.
Happy Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day. Happy Freedoms and Opportunities.
Copyright© 2010 by Marina Delvecchio. All Rights Reserved.