Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thank You, America

21 years ago today, my family arrived in America. On January 31, 1992, I woke up on an airplane and peeked out the window just as the sun began to rise over the horizon and shine its rays over New York City. I was five years old then and much too young to appreciate this most remarkable and poetic moment of my life. I literally opened my eyes to see the dawning of a bright, new future.

Of course, my life in America has not been perfect or easy. My family faced many challenges over the past 21 years, and despite how hard we’ve worked to achieve the financial American Dream, we’ve never come close to breaking the middle class barrier. My parents’ advanced degrees in engineering and literature were not highly valued in the United States. That coupled with my parents’ middle age (they were in their mid and late 40s when they arrived) and developing health problems made it difficult for them to find lucrative employment opportunities. I spent much of my childhood wanting toys that my parents could not afford or missing school trips that my classmates took for granted.

Nevertheless, my parents have been able to achieve a different kind of—and much more valuable—American Dream.  From 1992 on, they worked hard to educate their children. They managed to put me through private school for thirteen years,* send my older sister to college to earn two degrees, see my older brother become an optometrist, and help send me to one of this country’s top universities and law schools.  They did not do it alone, of course. Their children understood that we had to contribute to our own future, which meant we had to work hard for money and scholarships. It was not easy for any of us, but we’ve come out the other side wiser and with greater strength of character.

Though my parents were educated professionals in Russia, their careers could only advance so far because of their religion. Even though the Soviet Union claimed to be free of class and religion, identity documents listed one’s religious affiliation in plain sight. Anti-Semitism was prevalent in Russia proper, as well as the Muslim Republic of Uzbekistan where my family lived. As a result, my father was held back from top military rank and postings despite over twenty years of service. My mother could not finish law school.

My parents have said time and again that never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that their children would be educated professionals, and that one of their children would achieve such educational heights in a country that is not his birthplace.

The United States of America has given my family incredible opportunities. Though my parents do not live luxuriously, they are secure in their home and thrive with what they have. Their children have world-class educations, own homes of their own, and are raising families.** And, most importantly of all, they have all this in a country that is truly free, that allows people of any religion or background to thrive, and that gives so much to people who are willing to work hard. 

I have written many other blog posts praising and critiquing America. I stand firmly by my arguments that its political system is too fractured and that it too often does not live up to its own ideals.

Nevertheless, I am proud and grateful to be an American. The beauty of the United States is that, though it is not perfect, it is ever evolving for the better, and it allows its citizens to participate in creating positive change. When I think about how different my life would be if I lived in Russia now—an allegedly free, democratic country that continues to crackdown on free expression and individual rights—I recognize how incredibly blessed I am to be an American.

21 years of struggle and triumph have made for an incredible adventure, and have created a appreciative and, hopefully, better man.

*They could not afford most of the tuition, but I worked hard to earn scholarships.
**I still rent and remain single, but I am also the youngest and just finished school.