I Do Not Deserve to be an American

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

by Josh Gane

In daydreams, I have often wondered why I was born in America, and not somewhere else. It could have just as easily been Mexico if my ancestors had been Spanish immigrants, or Canada if my ancestors had been French. But for no good reason, my soul was bound for the body of a Scotch, Irish, and English descendent, and that made all of the difference.

I am told that citizenship is my right, that I am entitled to it. What that implies is that my soul was deserving of it, that I was entitled to it before I was even born, before I was even an idea. After all, I did not do anything in life to deserve it. I was just born.

One way to defend one’s right to something that is inherited through birth is to say that it was meant to be, or God made it so. God chose me to be American. God made it my right. When I say it that way, my ego gets a good boost. I feel like I am better than and more deserving than any foreigner of this life. God must not have wanted those foreign souls to end up here.

Another way to justify my inheritance is to say that my ancestors paid the price of my citizenship through their blood, sweat, and tears. I deserve to be American because someone else worked for it. This is intriguing, but also misleading. One can argue that my ancestors deserved to guarantee my citizenship, but I cannot be deserving of something that I did not work for myself.

That is not what it means to be deserving, at least not to me. To truly deserve something, I must act in a manner that is worthy of a given privilege. For most of my life, I have not acted that way.

I have always taken my citizenship for granted, which is kin to taking your entire life for granted, since geography plays such an enormous role in one’s chances of survival. I squandered many opportunities and made a playground of the world. I never considered myself lucky. That is what one does when he or she feels entitled, much like a prince does not give a second thought to his right to one day be king. When truly, it is only that way because powerful people made rules that benefited themselves and their children.

We, long ago as Americans, decided that royalty was not only unfair, but unreasonable. Why would we risk blindly trusting someone, who is unworthy of power, based on inheritance rather than merit? It seems obvious to us now, and yet we rely on inheritance in so many other areas of our lives. It is glaringly hypocritical, but when it benefits us, we can overlook it.

Obviously, every inheritance is not equal, and I don’t want to debate the ins and outs of property law in this essay. But it does, generally, seem counterintuitive to talk about entitlement for that which someone has not worked.

Yet, Americans like to talk this way. A lot of us say that we 'made it' on our own. We “pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.” And yet, we were all given something for free. None of us worked to be born here. I try and remember that when I arrogantly take full responsibility for an accomplishment. In fact, none of us did ‘it’ by ourselves. From a wordly perspective, we were born on third base.

Did we deserve it? Well, that answer is dependent on the individual, the context, and is relative to the size of the pool of candidates that you are willing to consider. This is how I answer for myself: I want to honestly admit to you, that my wife, who immigrated illegally to this country, is much more deserving of American citizenship than I am. Compared to her, I do not deserve to be an American.

She has been more of an asset to this country through the years than most people I know. She has been harder working, more responsible, more caring, more helpful, and more grateful than I have ever been on my best day. She knows how special America is. That is why she came here. That is why she treats it with such respect and gratitude.

I cannot say that for myself. I can talk patriotic like you would not believe. I can sing “America the Beautiful," and I fly the American flag on the 4th of July, but I have never put on a uniform and shed my blood. I have not volunteered a lot of my free time to make my community a better place. In fact, I am quite selfish. I have just played the game, and the game has been good to me, because it is rigged in my favor. I hit the entitlement jackpot: I am white, a male, and an American.

But in reality, I do not deserve anything. I am not entitled to anything. Entitlements of this type are just illusions. My inheritance is nothing more than a law that benefits me because of my geography and my ancestry. It is just a series of words on a document written by those with power. I can lose it in an instant from an overzealous leader or a government takover. It does not belong to me. It was loaned to me by Lady Luck. But do I really know how lucky I am?

My wife knows it, and she deserves to be here in the true meaning of the word, though the law of inheritance forbids it. She committed a misdemeanor at the age of 18, comparable to trespass by law, by crossing a line in the desert, in order to provide for her family back home, and make a bright future for her unborn children. How many of us would have the courage to leave our homeland to work for modest wages to not only support ourselves, but our elders? Not me. But how many of us would break a law to save those we love? Everyone.

I am writing this for one reason, and it is not political: I wish everyone could know my wife, and her family, and this is the best way to introduce you. If you met her, you would want her in your community as much as any American. You would be offended, as I am, when people use comparisons that involve animals, rapists, gang-bangers and rodent infestations to refer to her and her family. It would hurt your heart and cause you great distress, especially when people that you love express such things.

But I am an optimist. In time, maybe we could learn to treat people based on how good of a person they are, rather than what the law entitles them to have. If that day came, I could go to sleep without fearing for the safety of my family. Because in all truth, my government is as big of a threat to my family as any terrorist. My family could be torn apart at any time.

When you have a moment to daydream, imagine if you had to live with that worry, and maybe you can put yourself in my shoes: What if a government that you trust to protect you, could rip your child from your arms for the commission of a trespass? That is my wife's reality, and so she is forced to live in the shadows. She dreams of a time when she step into the light and openly show the world who she truly is: a queen of hearts.

And me, if I can fall asleep tonight, I wonder, "Will I be born a king in my dreams? Will I still be one when I wake?"

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