Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. My husband and I like to spend it with friends and “America’s Favorite Pastime” at Nationals Park. After the ballgame comes more time with friends and family, grilling and a table full of food, juicy watermelon, red, white, and blue décor galore, laughter, and celebration of our country and our great fortune to be a part of it. But most holidays are marked by celebrations with friends and family and food. What makes the Fourth of July stand out from all of the other holidays? The fireworks. Ever since I was a kid growing up in the Heartland of Iowa, the fireworks have been my favorite part – whether an hour-long professional show set to music, the town’s display, “Cappy’s” fireworks in our backyard, in-hand sparklers and poppers, or in the event of dreary weather, the sparks flying on television, taking place somewhere with fewer raindrops.
Those fireworks draw our attention as we all gaze up at skies filled with flashes of light, vibrant, streaming colors, and loud booms, pops, and crackles. Beyond the spectacle, fireworks are a symbol of celebration – on the surface, a celebration of our country’s independence. But for me, the fireworks aren’t just giant candles to celebrate America’s birthday; they conjure a deeper meaning. They are a celebration of our country’s history of offering a home to the discarded, freedom to the oppressed, and safe haven to the refugee. As Emma Lazarus famously wrote, “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!’”
Just as the Statue of Liberty’s beacon of light in her lifted lamp guided immigrants to their new beginnings here in the United States of America, on July 4, we celebrate with fireworks recognizing our country’s historic steps toward a bright future and away from a dark past.
This Fourth of July, on our country’s 238th birthday, this same theme still resonates, perhaps more than ever. I think about the asylum-seekers I have worked with – the women seeking to break free from the cycle of violence and oppression, the LGBT youths searching for a place where they can be themselves without fear of harm, and the young girls and boys desperately fleeing gang recruitment and horrific violence. When I hear these brave men, women, and children tell me their life stories and describe their unthinkable journeys to the United States, I know that these asylum-seekers are all doing what they can to step away from their own dark pasts toward a brighter future in this land, where the very skies are a beacon of hope every Fourth of July.
On this Fourth of July, as I gaze up at the sky among the “ooos” and “aahhs”, I will be thinking about my clients and all of the asylum-seekers at our borders, who, like our founders, have come to a new land in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, the very principles we proclaimed as unalienable rights in our Declaration of Independence.
As our country is faced with a humanitarian crisis at our borders, with asylum-seekers desperate, not only for new beginnings, but for protection from persecution and torture, I earnestly hope that our country continues to light the sky, to offer hope in the midst of darkness, to offer safe haven to children and refugees seeking freedom from violence and fear. I hope with all my heart that our leaders – and our own citizens – keep that beacon shining, lighting up the skies with color.
[This blog post was originally posted on the AILA Leadership Blog.]