4th of July 2017: On the outside looking in

by Anne Jing Ping Wen
Stripes Korea

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anne Jing Ping Wen is a senior-to-be at St. John’s High School on Guam. As the resident of one of the United States’ five territories, she has a unique perspective as American prepares to celebrate its 241st birthday this July 4th. Here is her take in the form of an essay that won her the Departments of Pacific Areas Voice of Democracy Award in 2015.

I am a Guamanian who lives in America’s vast western frontier. Guam is one of three Pacific island territories in the American family of 50 states and five territories. My vision for America is different than the average American’s because of where I live; our collective vision is international in scope. One would think that living on the fringe of America would compromise American values.

But it doesn’t at all.

Although we don’t exactly follow the U.S. Constitution, our civil rights are nonetheless protected under the aegis of American law. Civil rights and civic responsibilities are reciprocated at many levels in Guam’s relations with the United States. The island is a citadel of democracy, and its residents are decidedly pro-American.

In fact, the people of Guam are considered the most patriotic of all Americans. Guamanian volunteerism for U.S. military duty is at an all-time high. “Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam,” is still sung every July 21, the island’s “Liberation Day.” The stars and stripes mean more here because a little more than 70 years ago, Guam was the site of intense fighting during the Pacific Theater of World War II. And yet, despite the carnage and destruction of war, Guam emerged to become an integral part of America’s Pacific frontier, defending democracy and the American Way.

Democracy is about compromise, and there is the give-and-take of ideas that the majority will favor. Given that reasoning, democracies are not flawed, but always in a state of flux, ever changing to suit the times and the needs of the majority, provided there is concerted protection of the minority.

Using hindsight, I can see that America’s history is riddled with paradoxes and inconsistencies, compromises that didn’t always sit well with either the majority or the minority. As an outsider looking in, I can objectively review the chronicle of America’s history with a critical eye. Wars, just and unjust, were fought, and men and women tragically died defending the ideals of the American Way. Past institutions, moral and immoral, helped mold an American attitude that today is emulated the world over. No matter how the forces of determinism interpret American history—for better or for worse—millions upon millions of immigrants have pursued the American Dream in thought and action.

Great heroes and heroines have forged the American Dream, engineering free market enterprise, as well as our inalienable rights. In the process of overcoming its own ethical and civil dilemmas, America has defended the oppressed and, recently, eliminated the specters of communism, apartheid, and genocide. In each case, history reminds us that to be part of the Pax Americana, we must be willing to sacrifice and extend compassion to others in need. That vista is of a united people pooling their resources to raise the standard of life, not just in America, but also throughout the world.

There is no better place than the United States to live and learn, raise a family, and look to the future with sanguine optimism. Unimaginable achievements in science and technology, and of pluralism in politics, maturing to higher states because of her people’s insight, both past and present.

Novelist Horatio Alger would be proud today—America still holds opportunities for a new life, a new beginning since Jamestown took root in Virginia four centuries ago. And so the story continues. More recently and on a personal note, my parents wanted to start a family on American soil to provide a better future for their children—my sister and me. Like countless immigrants before them, my parents never graduated high school, and consequently, see education as a vehicle for social mobility.

Despite the odds stacked against them, my parents scrimped and sacrificed every necessary means possible to provide for what it takes to be an American teenager, even if we live on the fringe of Americana. Each day, they have slowly acculturated and embraced freedom. Only through hard work and perseverance did my parents make their dreams closer to reality. As their child, I am proud of their vision to be an American. I am a living example of their trust and faith in attaining the American Dream.

That elusive Dream is readily available, but can only be realized through continuous opportunity and political freedom. With slight shades of differences among diverse cultures, our inalienable rights—freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition—have made us the defender of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” My vision for America is of a nation bound by the ideals of democracy; of a nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; and most importantly, of a nation I am proud to call home.

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