One of the things that most encapsulates the high ideals of America are the First Amendment. These encapsulate some of our most basic and cherished freedoms.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This country has not always lived up to the high ideals of the First Amendment. Slaves, workers, women, immigrant groups like the Irish and Chinese, leftists, various racial minority groups have at various points of American history been denied the rights of free speech, the right to assemble, the right to protest the government. But there have always been Americans who have fought to expand rights found in the First Amendment and the Constitution so that it protects the freedoms of all of our citizens. These Americans included the abolitionists, women suffragists, labor organizers, civil rights workers, feminists, LGBTQ rights activists, immigrants rights activists. Martin Luther King Jr said in his last speech that all the African American community wants is for American to be true to what it said on paper. I think we are all the better for the efforts of these Americans to get this country to live up to its highest values.
My parents came to this country to give my siblings and I freedoms and opportunities that we wouldn’t have in the Philippines. I was especially cognizant of this as a teen, when I began to read about the struggles that the Philippines was going through under Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law. I grew up at a time when the Soviet Union and eastern Europe was still under the grips of an oppressive communist government, Apartheid still ruled South Africa, the Catholics and Protestants were at war in Northern Ireland, the Khmer Rouge were committing genocide in Cambodia.
For all its flaws, I really appreciated the freedoms and relative security that I had in America. And I appreciated the courage of my parents in immigrating here. I grew up collecting comic books, cheering the Boston Celtics when all my other friends were either 76er fans or Laker fans, reading whatever books I wanted to read and checking out from the library whatever movies I wanted to watch. As an adult, I’ve tried to craft the life I want to live: attend protests; paint and create art; travel and explore the spots of historical figures I admire; explore different churches and figure out for myself what I believe about God; express my political views through my editorial cartoons.
I can do all these things because of the First Amendment protections of my freedom of religion, freedom of speech and expression, freedom to join whatever group I want to join, and my freedom to protest for my rights and the rights of any marginalized group.
Many people in this world have not been given the freedom and security that I have had to live the life that they want to live. I worry about the trend around the world where democracies are backsliding and are electing authoritarian figures who have no respect for basic freedoms. But as an American, I am not powerless. I can read a diversity of political opinions, join in protests and phonebank for candidates who share my views, donate to causes. And I can vote.
Thank you America. Happy birthday!