Happy Birthday, America!

My name is Fiona Ma. I am the daughter of refugees.
My name is Fiona Ma. I am the daughter of refugees.

Parades, fireworks, barbecues, picnics, baseball games and more; these are all the components we love about the Fourth of July. While we celebrate the 241st birthday of this great nation, let’s take a moment to remember why we celebrate this momentous day. In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies fighting in the Revolutionary War debated a resolution that would declare independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence and two days later adopted the Declaration of Independence – declaring this “new” idea of the nation of the United States of America.

America is the land of opportunity – made up of immigrants from the old world bravely setting out to the new world for new opportunities. The fundamental notion of what continues to make this country great is simple: We are welcomed to this land to build our hopes, to shape our future, to work, and to live the American dream. We must remember that America is built on immigrant ingenuity and labor – between the Transcontinental Railroad, breakthroughs in the industrial revolution, and inventions in the Silicon Valley, immigrants have and continue to contribute to our economy and history. Immigrants help grow the American economy by bringing in new ideas and innovation.

My parents immigrated to New York, where I was born. As I grew up in the community, I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty as she stands proud in the harbor and marveling that I was able to go to school and live in this wonderful country. Around me, I saw a melting pot of neighborhoods that celebrate the rich heritage that makes up America – Chinatown, Little Italy, Australia, Poland, Odessa, and more, making up one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I remember being able to walk a few blocks and enter into another world – with varying food, languages, and cultural practices. There would be corner markets, restaurants, retail stores, and all kinds of business activities booming in the neighborhood. And New York is hardly alone – California, Hawaii, Texas, Nevada, and Maryland are also states with diverse populations.

This diversity is one of the reasons I love living in California. When I moved here, I immediately felt welcomed since it too is culturally diverse, full of history, and a leader in many areas of worldwide importance – on the forefront of making a difference on climate change, having a strong economy that trades with countries around the globe, and home to a melting pot of people, many of which I am proud to represent.

America is built on the ideals of diversity, tolerance, and freedom. While we need legal processes in place to ensure immigrants are admitted to America safely, it is also important to make sure their rights are not trampled upon. California has been a leader in this area, sending a letter to the Federal Government protesting the withholding of some federal funds from cities that refused to cooperate with immigration officials, and winning in court that grants can’t legally be withheld. California has also proposed a bill that would make the state the first sanctuary state and would prevent local and state law enforcement agencies from helping the federal government deport undocumented immigrants.

There are many things that make America great, immigrants with new ideas, populations with diverse cultures, innovative entrepreneurs, and a place where opportunities abound. As we celebrate America’s birthday, let’s take to heart the words of the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, donated to an auction to help fund the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, and where the last lines of the sonnet were placed on a bronze plaque on the pedestal in 1903:

The New Colossus: Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand. A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command. The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "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!"

Lady Liberty is one of the first things many immigrants saw when entering this country. She is in our hearts and minds when our military and citizens stand vigilant to defend our freedoms. She survived World Wars I and II, and 911 – let us not destroy what she has faithfully stood for all these years. Lady Liberty – stand tall and keep your lamp beside the golden door. Happy Birthday, America!

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