Most of the time, we don’t think about the legal distinctions that separate us from our co-workers, friends and neighbors. With the recent actions of President Trump, those differences have suddenly become woefully apparent. There are students on Emory’s campus who have to weigh the risks of going home for spring break. There are students who face the reality that they might be deported in the near future. There are so many people, like me, who were not born with unalienable rights.
Two months before 9/11, my parents immigrated to the United States from Switzerland. That year, we attempted many new things (including Thanksgiving), but when February rolled around, our neighbors took it upon themselves to introduce us to a much more important American tradition, and invited us to watch the big game at their house.
Fortunately, my family was able to stay in the States for many more Super Bowls, and eventually underwent the green-card process to become permanent residents. As my older siblings and I moved through the public school system, we assimilated. After just a few months my sister was begging for designer jeans, and my pre-school classmates had forgotten that I used to talk funny and didn’t know the right nursery rhymes. The first time I said “we,” in reference to Americans, my parents were shocked. The thought that I might self-identify as one of these loud, freedom-loving aliens was bizarre, even frightening, to them.
When my youngest sister was born, she became the first natural-born American citizen in my gene pool. Her navy-blue passport was a contradiction; she was four days old and yet she was undeniably more American than any of the rest of us. If our visas were revoked, the jig was up, but she was safe — not because America had a claim on her, but because she had a claim on America. With that one document, she became a part of “We, the People.”
After residing in the States for 10 years, my parents were finally able to apply for citizenship. It amused me to saunter into the sitting room and find them studying the Bill of Rights, or memorizing a list of State Congressmen, but I knew from my eighth-grade history class that just as most Americans would easily fail the citizenship test, many take their rights as citizens for granted.
Throughout my childhood, “free speech” was a joke used to argue on the playground, and deportation was for dangerous criminals. Although I didn’t identify as an immigrant, I was aware of realities most of my classmates never considered. When my second grade teacher told us that we could all become president if we wanted, I knew she was wrong, and she was wrong for millions of other people living in this country too.
Last Sunday after the game ended, I was surprised by a text from my dad. He told me that the halftime show brought him to tears. Lady Gaga made my dad cry. My first reaction was to poke fun at him, but then I realized he had a point. During her halftime show, Lady Gaga did something few artists do.
She opened with a clear message — Liberty and justice for all. Her carefully-chosen words were not just empty patriotism. Without being overtly political, Gaga made clear her opposition to Trump’s policies. After multiple flips and the iconic “Born this Way,” Gaga sat down at the piano and completely changed the mood with her new and introspective single, “Million Reasons.”
Throughout Trump’s election and first few weeks in office, some have expressed resignation, if not outright despair, toward the attitudes Trump shares with many of his supporters. In recent weeks, jokes of “moving to Canada” became too realistic to be funny, and many question the power of our democracy to promote “liberty and justice for all.”
If you are in this camp, I encourage you to take Gaga’s lyrics to heart. Although it may seem like we have “a hundred million reasons” to question America’s political system, many parents can only dream of giving their children the rights we enjoy on a daily basis. Don’t take one bad election as a sign of failure. Instead, let those people without the privilege of US citizenship be your “one good reason” to keep fighting.
Madeline Lutwyche is a College freshman from Baltimore, Maryland.