America is known to the world as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But what defines a nation of acceptance and tolerance is the presence of people from all walks of life. Rich with history and known for being one of the world’s most diverse countries, America, to me, has always seemed like a dream. Yet for some, that dream faces the very real danger of being shattered.
According to the census bureau, in 2015, America was home to an estimated 54 million people of Hispanic descent— a prominent 17% of the population. Yet as much as one can provide numbers and believe that statistics accurately represent a group of people, one must remember that there are people, lives, faces and stories behind those percentages. Some of these people’s families have lived in America for generations; others are immigrants, and some are the children of immigrants. Regardless of where one comes from, if one considers themselves an American citizen they are just that- an American.
What I have observed in recent months is a struggle to define what a “true American” is. The battle of clarifying that definition has caused far more trouble than it’s worth, because the definition of what a “real American” is simply doesn’t exist. Part of what made America such a beautiful country to me was the fact that everyone could peacefully co-exist and still identify with their culture. And now that freedom is being robbed from millions and instead being replaced with fear and uncertainty, love and acceptance is being replaced with hate speech and threats. The futures of immigrants and their children are being put on the lines, the opportunity of those who could have thrived is being stolen.
When I spent my summer studying and working away from home back east, I was immersed in a primarily Hispanic community, many of which were visitors from the United States staying with family for the summer. Upon speaking with them, at work, at the house of my host family, or elsewhere with other people I encountered, many said the same thing: they feel their culture is under attack. They feel as if they are foreigners in the place they were born and raised, where they dreamed of raising their own families, and fear for a future in which they cannot call America home. Yet with that came a sense of unity— they were determined to preserve their culture, to practice their traditions and to stand together. One woman told me she feels fortunate she lives in an era that she can have a voice, and she is determined to use that voice until the very end.
And in case you were wondering, no, I am not Hispanic, nor am I American. I am merely a high school student living and studying in Western Canada. And yes, some can and will tell me it’s “not my problem.” But even if it isn’t, I am determined to make it my problem. This affects my first-generation-Canadian Hispanic teacher who fears for her family in America. This affects my coworkers who are trying to have their families come north in fear of deportation. This affects my host family who can no longer travel to America fearing for their safety, this is the problem of the single mother of three who lives every day wondering if she will be “sent back” to a country she has never been to. I am by no means trying to speak for these people, for not being part of this minority in no way gives me a right to express their hardships or fears or deepest emotions. But I refuse to stand to the side any longer. These are the stories of everyday people who have no means of being heard, so the least I can do is exist as a megaphone and support their voices.
So what does it mean to be Hispanic in America today? Well, personally, I can’t give you that answer. But what I have learned from others is that today it could mean fear, it could mean uncertainty, it could mean unrest, it could mean anger. But with this comes the beautiful stories of unity, of perseverance, of pride, of change. And the one thing I was always told: there is always hope for the future.