What the Fourth of July means to undocumented immigrants

On June 30th, thousands of people across the U.S. joined “Keep Families Together” marches to protest the inhumane family separation and detention taking place at the U.S.-Mexico border, caused by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. Leading up to the more than 600 marches throughout the country was an outpouring of rage and support on social media for the 2,700 or more children who have been ripped away from their parents. Now, with the Fourth of July upon us, it’s crucial to stay critical of the U.S.’s problematic and dark history with communities of color — because these attacks are nothing new.

This July 4th, we need to take a step back and reevaluate what independence truly means when racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, and so much more run rampant in our culture.

We keep reading that “this isn’t America,” but it is. The America that’s currently stripping away people’s rights in the name of patriotism and nationalism is the same America that has a history of slavery, inequality, and segregation.

It’s the same America that put 100,000 Haitian and Central American immigrants at risk of deportation this year after the Trump administration ended Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that allowed immigrants from those countries — who are unable to return to their home countries safely — to remain in the U.S.

It’s the same America that’s left 800,000 DACA recipients in limbo with no clear future. And the same America that signed off, in a June 26th Supreme Court ruling, on Trump’s third Muslim travel ban, giving him the power to prevent certain groups of immigrants from entering the country. 

With this anti-immigrant America as the backdrop to this Fourth of July, we asked folks who identify as undocumented immigrants to reflect on what celebrating “independence” really means to them.

The administration has disregarded the Declaration of Independence.

“It’s evident, especially in the turbulent political climate that we are currently living in, that the administration has disregarded the fact that the Declaration of Independence was written to benefit those who immigrated to an unknown land to seek freedom from the British tyranny.

The most quoted part of the Declaration of Independence is, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’

For many of us, Independence Day is not even a celebration; it sure isn’t for my family. We still have to work, we are afraid of being too loud during our carne asadas because someone might call the police on us and we could get arrested. We’re not able to travel, because we might get stopped by immigration agents and be deported — this is the reality for us. The equal rights that are supposed to be granted to us by the Declaration of Independence are nonexistent for us.”

— Edwin Soto Saucedo 

How can we celebrate independence when it’s not independence for all of us?

“[When you move here], you try to assimilate as much as you can, you celebrate the holidays because it’s what everybody else is doing — [you’re] trying to be American.

I came to the realization in the last couple years that we don’t really have a value for it anymore because how can we celebrate independence when it’s not independence for all of us? If you go way back to July 1774, it was independence for white Americans and the Founding Fathers — they were the only people that could really fight for their independence.

[Fast forward to 2018], it’s not a holiday that’s meant for us, even though everything on social media, the TV commercials, they try to buy us into it. You’re not really celebrating anything.

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school [used to bring] a sense of pride to me [but] now as I’m getting older and all these crazy things are happening, extreme patriotism and nationalism, it’s just discouraging. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that there are people out there who are taking it to these lengths and using this to justify their own racism and hatred.”

— A 26-year-old who emigrated to the U.S. at age 7 and asked to remain anonymous

It’s like being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want you.

“Growing up in the U.S. has [felt] like a paradox, because on the one hand, as someone who isn’t documented, there’s this pressure to assimilate, the pressure to learn the language, the pressure to appear to want to belong to the U.S. As I’ve grown older and learned more and become more critical of U.S history, colonialism, and nationalism, I’ve also grown more critical of what it means to want to be American.

I ask myself, ‘Do I really consider myself American?’ And to the answer, I say no. Do I want to be American? And to that answer, I’ll say no.

It’s like being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want you — wanting to claim American-ness, whatever that may mean, is really reinforcing being in a violent relationship with the state that doesn’t want you. So that’s how I’ve been looking at things nowadays, and that perspective helps me process and to really not be surprised by what the U.S. government is doing; [it has a] history of harming communities of color and other people that are seen as unwanted.

From that perspective, it’s really helped me think about myself as a citizen of the world and being open to packing my bags. This just isn’t the place to be. How can we celebrate a nation when that nation is locking up families and separating children at the border?

[What needs to be done now] is for people to take responsibility for the things that are happening and not to blame it on the racists or the nationalists or the president — you really have to begin to take responsibility for this happening because we all, one way or another, have [played a part] at some point in [our] life.”

— Josefina Flores Morales

Whether celebrating the Fourth of July has helped immigrant families assimilate and feel part of the culture or not, its meaning has definitely transformed over time.

By all means, celebrate Independence Day and the qualities that, on a good day, make America great. But while some of us have the privilege to spend time with our family, friends, and loved ones, remember those who are locked in cages, stripped of their humanity all in the name of “making America great.”

Remember to stay critical, and don’t be blind to our country’s violent past and present. Remember the people who cannot celebrate their independence because it has not been wholly granted to them. Remember the folks who this administration does not want.

Filed Under