I have always approached the Fourth of July with joyful thoughts of playing American songs on my violin while seeing colorful fireworks (courtesy of the park near my house) splash across the darkened sky, above a traffic-jammed street; swimming, and eating grilled food. At the same time, I have also approached it with a feeling of confusion and loneliness. As a second generation Filipina born and raised in sunny Southern California, I have oftentimes struggled with my cultural identity, which isn’t made easier when there’s racism lurking about in society; I never knew whether I was truly American or not. I wasn’t part of the ideal American family I saw in picture books because I ate food no one ever seemed to know about. Sinigang? Kare Kare? Tinola? Didn’t ring a bell with most people. The only people who were truly American, I thought, were white Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans.
And then again, I observed as I grew up, racial-ethnic minorities–even if they were people I thought were “truly American”–seemed to have never gotten as much freedom as white people did. I learned of slavery and Native American genocide in the past, and the poverty in Native American reservations today. I learned that many times, black kids got the death penalty despite one of the Amendments stating something against unusual punishment. I would see people of racial-ethnic minorities working so hard at their jobs, but I saw way more successful money-making jobs held by whites.
Oh, and the stereotypes! As an Asian with light skin and Anglicized features, I got better treatment than others who did not have those features because Asians usually rank as more privileged compared to other PoC groups. But I still face stereotyping: in school people assumed I was a quiet girl who was really smart and good at math; later on people found out I was Filipino and stereotyped me as dumb but nice. Well, they did find out I was highly gifted, I like being nice, my parents said I was better at math than I thought I was (I liked English much better), but I was never quiet, and I wanted to be known as my own person, not an Asian/Filipino stereotype. Also, a few years after 9/11, I had to take a plane flight with family, and since the second most practiced religion in the Philippines is Islam. They suspected we were terrorists and we were taken aside to be checked for anything suspicious. I knew people of racial-ethnic minorities made stereotypes about white people, but those never seemed to affect white people nearly as much.
It’s been one heck of a year so far. Today the stereotypes, racism, and xenophobia (particularly Islamophobia) go on. Even the Ku Klux Klan is still here. And there are other kinds of injustice, such as sexism and homophobia, shown by people and events like Donald Trump and the Orlando attacks.
Is this the country we say is the place of freedom, independence, and opportunity?
The day everyone is free from the shackles of oppression is the day America is truly the place of freedom, independence, and opportunity.
For many of us, freedom and independence is not exactly a reality. It is an ideal that was in the minds of the Founding Fathers but is not yet fully implemented in American society. However, we are fighting for it, there is hope, and we’re getting there. There is still rampant injustice, but we’ve made progress. And I think that progress is something to celebrate today.