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What Being an American Means to My Immigrant Family

Image Source: Jeannette Kaplun
Image Source: Jeannette Kaplun

When my parents came to America in 1972, they left everything behind in Chile: their families, their friends, even many beloved possessions. They left because they didn’t want to live in a communist country. If they stayed, they feared they would be persecuted.

And so they packed their bags and moved to Texas. My father went on to get his M.B.A. at the University of Texas at El Paso and later became an assistant professor. While in El Paso, I was born, and three years later my brother completed our family of four. After a few years, my father decided he wanted to go back to Chile, so we moved there as a family. I was raised bilingual and bicultural, so I have always felt at home both in the U.S. and Chile.

Little did I know in 1997, when I moved back to the States, that my dreams and hard work would take me to places I couldn’t even imagine.

Little did I know, I would find a way to use my voice to reach people not only through TV but also online.

Little did I know, blogging would bring me amazing friends and opportunities that I thought were impossible to reach.

Image Source: Jeannette Kaplun
Image Source: Jeannette Kaplun

A few weeks ago, I received an invite from Babble to represent them at The White House. First Lady Michelle Obama was hosting an event for her Let’s Move! campaign for 150 parenting bloggers and I would be one of few lucky enough to be there. The invitation was on short notice, and I had to ask family to help watch my children so that I would be able to go — flying from Miami to Washington D.C. just for the day. But it was so worth it.

All I could think about when I approached that iconic home — a living, breathing symbol of all our nation stands for — is that the USA truly is the land of opportunity. As a first-generation American, I entered the East Wing in awe, but was also humbled. I made it here thanks to the hard work of so many people. Many friends have said I was “glowing” that day, probably because I was so amazed by this unique experience that I was fortunate enough to be a part of.

Something else was in my thoughts that gray morning. The concept of “living the American Dream?” The dream everyone talks about and many, including my parents, have fulfilled?

Well, that could really change for us in the future.

Diversity enriches us, but more and more people seem to disagree with the notion that we can all find a way to respect each other. I can’t wrap my head around half of the things I hear and see on the news and social media. Banning an entire group of people due to their religious beliefs is contrary to what this great country stands for. I do believe in strong antiterrorist measures, but not in racism or discrimination.

My heart breaks every single time there is a new attack, threatening our safety and our way of life. Brussels, Istanbul, Tel Aviv are just a few cities mourning their loved ones. These attacks are made in an attempt to thwart diversity and freedom. Terrorists have no respect for human life, they don’t value the beauty of living in a world with different opinions, cultures, religions, and races. We are better than them and I have to believe that good will prevail over evil, tolerance over extremism, dialogue over violence.

Inciting hatred against minorities and immigrants does not make America great. It makes it more violent; it divides us, and therefore weakens us even more.

“There is power in individual voices,” the First Lady told us that day. And she is right.

Our voices are important, and we need them to reflect how different we all are. We need them to learn from each other. With tolerance and respect, we can become better people, more compassionate, and kinder. We can defeat ignorance and racism.

To my parents, husband, kids, and family: I hope I’ve made you proud.

To our country’s next leader: please don’t prevent dreams from coming true for people like me. We have so much to contribute to our great country.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago
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