People often assume that as the daughter of a Frenchman and an American, born and mainly raised in France, I’m not especially attached to this country.
But while I’m extremely lucky to have the benefit of an outsider’s perspective at times, nothing could be further from the truth. I love the United States of America.
I spent some formative years living in Virginia, homeschooled and running barefoot in the creek behind our home. My father — a French citizen, remember! — was a Singing Sergeant for the United States Air Force, and I have many fond memories of military concerts on the National Mall. Without fail and somewhat embarrassingly, I tear up when singing the national anthem.
I was raised on stories of the Marquis de Lafayette’s courage and French support in the American revolution. Of all the countries to share citizenship with, the oldest ally of the United States was a pretty good one.
We returned to France before my tenth birthday, where I completed middle and high school. I won’t go on about the educational system there, but a lot of it was rough, from the long hours to the intransigence of the system, to the smug teachers openly mocking my religion in front of my classmates. There were a few bright spots, though, including a couple of supportive teachers, and I was blessed to be raised in a good family and an extraordinary faith community with dedicated, loving role models and dear friends.
I recently visited the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, and learned an interesting tidbit about poker: the original poker rules brought over from Europe stuck around for a while until Americans out West decided they would make a key change; they introduced a new rule where if you felt you’d been dealt a bad hand, you could trade in your hand for a new one.
I’m not a gambler, but packing all my belongings into suitcases and moving to America for college was a big leap of faith. I wanted that fresh start, and I also got the freedom of making stupid mistakes and learning hard lessons. I’m grateful for all of it.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course I love France. I love the rich history, the great philosophers (many of whom provided the foundations that would help shape American ideals), the beautiful cobblestone cities and fertile countryside, the bakeries and regional pride, the beaches and forests and arts and music. I miss dear friends and family members and visit as often as I can. I miss the laid back love of good living, good company, good conversation.
But also, growing up in France, I was constantly asked, “why?” if I stuck out in any way.
In the U.S., I saw people around me ask themselves, “why not?” and then reach for their dreams. It took me a while to start applying that same question to myself instead of the less-mature “why didn’t I get that opportunity,” but it started to take root.
As an adult I’ve been catching up on the early American history I missed in school, and I’m in awe of the inspired, courageous people who shaped the country we know today. I honor those who gave their life to defend it. I also know the founding fathers and foremothers were deeply flawed, often prejudiced, and made awful compromises.
I can still admire their courage and be grateful for their sacrifices and commitment to this country. So many times in the American revolution, the cause should have been lost. But as David Mccullough puts it, a combination of personality and fate (some would say, the hand of God) combined to give the rebels another day, and another chance.
I admire those who, from the start, stood up for justice and fought for an inconvenient ideal. Abolitionists knew that the work started with the Declaration of Independence was far from over. And Abraham Lincoln — imperfect too — had the humility, compassion, and leadership to see us through. I’m grateful to our sister suffragettes and pioneer women who forged a path for me today.
I am immensely grateful for the United States of America. This country gave me the chance for a fresh start, a chance to work hard at an education and a wonderful life. It was home to my ancestors on my mother’s side, it gave me my wonderful husband and two (soon three!) beautiful children.
We can raise our family as we see fit, even educate them ourselves if we so choose. And while I’m well aware some people in this country have a lot more options than others because of connections or wealth or the color of their skin, at the end of the day this is still a country of possibility more than any other. There’s a reason so many sacrifice everything to come here.
I’m horrified at times by what I read in the news, yet also heartened by the many extraordinary — and ordinary — people around me. When Americans see a problem, their best instincts are to organize; they ask themselves “why not me?” and they find creative solutions.
When our government fails us, Americans step up to fill the holes. I saw it time and again as a journalist: stay-at-home moms organize diaper drives for children detained at the border and call their representatives, empty nesters befriend refugees, young fathers offer jobs to underserved populations in their small businesses, and churches step in to feed the hungry. Doctors volunteer their time and skills, elderly men parade in fez hats and raise funds so my son can receive treatment for clubfoot.
America is beautiful and rugged and wild. I love its mountains and rivers and valleys and plains and fields. I’m working on learning to love its deserts… and I love its wild forests and fall splendor. I love its teeming cities and bursting billboards and night lights and glass buildings, and its suburban rows of quiet homes. We’ve lived in its small towns and learned to love the microcosms of American life there too.
Some Americans are loud, some are very quiet. Most of us disagree on something or another — sometimes in very fundamental ways. But this is a place where there’s room for civil disobedience and loyalty to country. It’s a place where we can argue and find solutions.
Some Americans wave banners in marches and some go to work every morning and keep the engines running. They’re all the ones who are dreaming and working to make America great, and they are why I love this land with all my heart.
My children speak two languages and share two heritages, but isn’t that the story of so many of the immigrants who built this country? They’ll always know how lucky they are to live where their right to speak freely, worship the God they choose, and follow the path they feel called to is protected. My greatest hope is that they’ll remember to defend those rights for others, too.
Walt Whitman always knew how to put it. We may despair at the state of things and our smallness in the face of great challenges, or we can listen to that quintessentially American voice and seize our chance:
“That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”