I’ve been in America, legally, for 34 years, but this year will be my first time voting in a general election.
My father, Jorge Alberto, arrived in New York City from Argentina on Aug. 26, 1965. He had $12 to his name, according to family legend.
The challenge of the American dream seemed like a cakewalk for my dad — a budding chef and baker. He promptly got a job at a Meatpacking District slaughterhouse and found an affordable apartment for himself, wife, and three children. Everything was going well.
The third day on the job, his Argentinian friend approached him and asked, in their native tongue, how everything was going. My father, in Argentinian Spanish, began to respond with, “Amazing, thank you so much for the opportunity, we’re so grateful…” before his friend quickly cut him off.
“No, no. This is America, Jorge,” he said, in English. “Here we respond with ‘OK.'”
My father thought he was joking. As the conversation in two languages continued, however, his friend continued to interrupt to remind him, “Only English in America, Jorge, please. OK?”
As the story goes, my dad, being the proud, stubborn man that he was, ripped off his blood-stained apron and meat covered gloves. He slammed them to the ground and proclaimed in proud Argentinian Spanish, “You can take your ‘OK’ and your ‘English’ and shove it up your ——.”
That was the moment my father, 51 years ago, decided he would never learn English.
And he didn’t. It was a decision that would cost him dearly later, financially speaking. Meanwhile, I grew up teaching myself English by watching “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.”
I was raised in Boston, where there were two rules under my father’s roof: (1) No English was to ever be spoken in his house and (2) No baseball.
These rules stemmed less from anti-American sentiment and were rather more about pride, or, as it’s called in Argentinian Spanish, orgullo. With the history books laden with stories of bloody colonialism, Argentina, like most European-influenced countries, was a product of swift global eminent domain. Argentinians hold on to their identity whenever they found themselves outside of their native land.
I spent the ’80s and ’90s listening to Red Sox games on my headphones under the covers. With my dad’s two staunch anti-American rules in place, it wasn’t going to be an option for me to naturalize (the process of admitting a foreigner to the citizenship of a country) before or after I turned 18.
Orgullo — that Argentinian sense of pride — is why my father didn’t want anyone literally planting the flag of another nation inside his consulate-like abode.
As I grew older, those rules weighed heavy on my sense of belonging.
I watched jealously as my peers ran to the polls to cast their votes for Al Gore in 2000. After the complications in that election and even more so when, in 2004, John Kerry ran under the slogan “Let America Be America Again,” I was so excited for Boston (and the Red Sox) and for America, and I desperately wanted to get involved in the good fight.
I chomped at the bit for anything I could do to get involved with politics on campus, far from my father’s eyes. I helped plan debate parties and organized events with the chair of political communication. But I still couldn’t participate in American democracy the same way my peers could. Every four years, on that November Tuesday following the first Monday, I was the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Every year when I’d see my old man, his response to even the slightest mention of my becoming an American citizen was a clear “no.”
When my father died in 2012, things changed. In all my grief, I also had a decision to make.
My dad passed on March 26, 2012. On March 27, I realized the only thing keeping me from becoming an American wasn’t orgullo but stubbornness. I made the decision to become a citizen of the United States of America and to take part in the civic duty, honor, and responsibility of voting.
Two years later, I stood with 5,000 other people and pledged allegiance to this nation.
I am proud of my heritage, but I am also proud of this country that has given me everything I have ever worked for. I am so especially proud to, finally, be an American during such an important election.
I know that wherever my father may be, he’s looking at me with orgullo at the fact I was stubborn enough to do what I thought was necessary and to make the decision that was right for me. He may not agree, but I know he’s proud.
We all may not agree as to what’s best for America. Are parts of our nation broken? Sure. Yes, there is work to be done. But the fact that we can sit here and have this kind of dialogue is tantamount to the same ideals the founding fathers had 240 years ago. To me, as a new American citizen, it is a thing of beauty.
To be an American means continuing to melt together, to create one of the greatest democracies the world has ever seen. It’s easy to turn to negativity, to point out everything wrong, and to despise what may await us on the other side of election day. But even if the result is our “doomsday” scenario, we’ll survive because that’s what Americans do. After every election, the history books tell the story of Americans moving forward together, making a great country even greater. Just like my dad felt orgullo to Argentina, I felt orgullo — that sense of pride in my country — for America.
We should all be proud of what we have here. Whatever the outcome on Election Day, we’ll survive. We’ll unify. We’ll work hard. We’ll come together and beat stubbornness with one simple thing: Orgullo Americano.
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