It's so much easier to talk about all the things our country does wrong, to focus on the wars we are in and to obsess about the economy. But when I traveled to New York City last week with my friend who is from Peru and who had always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, it became clear to me that we are indeed a nation of people who should stop and take time to think about what our country means to others less fortunate.
Elena is my friends' name. Born in Peru and living (legally, I must say) in the United States for the last 30 years, she had dreamed of seeing this "lady" of the island that has greeted more than 10 million immigrants to our country. I had visited the statue when I was around ten and found it more interesting to climb up to her crown than what she stood for. This time, it was different.
As the ferry approached the island, Elena got more and more excited. When we got really close, right before we docked, she looked at the statue and started crying. It took me back a little.
"Are you okay?"
She told me that just looking at that statue made her think of the power this country has for good, and all the things it stands for in the world. She said that she would never have been able to send her two girls to college in Peru. She said that in America, you had a chance to be all that you can be.
She wasn't the only person being emotional. I had tears in my eyes too after hearing her describe my country. Millions all over the world do see the statue and this country as the only place where opportunity is made - no matter if you don't have a formal education, you can get one in America.
Elena wanted to take a picture of the two of us standing in front of Lady Liberty, and when we asked two young ladies from Japan to snap the picture another Japanese gentleman jumped in our picture and nodded his head, as if to say - "this alright?" "Sure," we said. Shortly after the picture we noticed he was alone. He thanked us, and left with a big smile on his face. It was clear that he was equally happy to be there too and important for him to share this happiness with us.
As we see the Fourth of July weekend come and go, I think we all need to remember what this country stands for - freedom in all its forms. Sometimes we have to stop and pay attention ourselves and take just a moment to reflect on all the good things we do for others and commit to take care of our people here in America - the soldiers who are fighting for us in countries that may not want us there. We know that we give our best and youngest children to fight these wars because the USA stands for something, We need to let our leaders - nationally and locally know that we expect them to fight for us and work for the greater good of this country and its people, and if they don't we can and will replace them. And most importantly, we need to teach our children about citizenship and all that goes with it - about pride and about caring for this land and each other.
I told Elena I was glad I came with her to see Lady Liberty because it renewed my pride in being an American and that I will do my best not to take being a citizen of this great country for granted.
Celebrate our country, not only on the Fourth of July, but year-round and know that each of us is blessed to be living here.
(Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson host PBS travel show Grannies on Safari. You can see episodes here. Read more about the Grannies here.)