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Op Eds

Oh, America ... What Are You?

By Leah S. Yared
By Santiago R. Giner, Crimson Opinion Writer
Santiago R. Giner ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

The insurrection on January 6 has once again brought to light the deeply disturbing and urgent problems that the United States faces today and has been facing for nearly its entire history. The events not only threatened democracy in an unprecedented fashion but also resulted in the loss of five human lives, proof enough of the horrifying and saddening nature of the insurrection. Among the dead is U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. He died after being struck in the head by a fire extinguisher at the hands of a member of the livid mob — a demonstration of the descent into lawlessness that happened at the Capitol.

That day, as I first saw the rally galvanized by President Donald Trump, my initial impression was that nothing significant would happen. Surely they’ll just march peacefully towards the Capitol and that’ll be it? I mean, this is the United States — the archetype of how a democracy should work. What else could happen? So I decided to carry on with my day, and in the evening, I would finally see the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

When I later saw how the mostly white male protesters broke windows, vandalized senators’ offices, and brandished neo-Nazi and white-supremacist flags, I was utterly shocked. This cannot be the U.S. How could it be? A part of me knew there was no denying it — this was really happening. Yet another part balked at accepting the truth.

Growing up in Venezuela, I constantly encountered ideas such as “The American Dream.” I looked up to the United States as the example of how a country should function. Whenever my country’s situation worsened, many people around me would migrate to the U.S., searching for better opportunities — sometimes not even better opportunities, just any opportunity. What I saw on January 6 made me question all these beliefs. What is “America,” really?

From an early age, I was taught that America is a whole continent — South America and North America. We rarely ever made the distinction between the North and the South. To me, I was already American. Everyone I knew was American. I was growing up in America — until I learned the English language, the distinction made between North and South America, and how “Americans” are citizens of the United States. Of course, I knew I wasn’t a U.S. citizen — but now I wasn’t even American. What, then, is America?

This is a question that I frankly do not believe I am in the position to answer. However, we can draw meaningful and enlightening lessons from the differing definitions of America I grew up with. The combined American continent is the second largest continent in the world, housing six megacities, and nearly 1 billion inhabitants. It is an extremely diverse continent, with several climates, cultures, ethnicities, and religions. And I submit that this is a crucial part of what America (the country) is.

The United States is a country built upon diversity — diversity of cultures, diversity of views, diversity of identities, diversity of people. It is a country where immigration has played a vital role in its economy and politics. And through all of this, the ideals of democracy and freedom have been pivotal. Thinking of “what” America is, therefore, necessarily entails thinking about a rich blend of cultures, languages, and ideologies; it entails thinking about a population that is only growing ever more diverse.

But it also entails thinking about a long, long history of injustices and inequalities, among which are the events of Wednesday, January 6. On that day, I, along with millions of other viewers worldwide, watched the maliciousness with which the insurrectionists invaded the Capitol, the inaction on the part of the police, the insolence and disrespect towards democracy on display, and the overall hate that the invaders emanated as they bellowed slurs and threats. I was shaken by it, I was frightened by it. What if I had been nearby? What would these people have done to me? Even though I was only looking through a glass screen, the hatred and animosity still penetrated me.

Nevertheless, I choose not to feel discouraged. I choose to think back to the differing definitions I had about America and how, in the end, they’re really the same: both a melting pot of cultures, ideals, identities, and people. But I also choose not to ignore the significance of the storming of the Capitol. Rather, I use these events as a reminder that there is still an immense amount of work left to do in the areas of equality, justice, and democracy — in the U.S. and worldwide.

When we face trying times like this, the stage is set for immense growth and improvement, for we are forced to rethink important matters in society and in the world overall. Thus, let us utilize this time to find places for discussion. To think deeply about America’s history, America’s grand diversity, and America’s injustices. Do not let the significance of these events pass; the actions we all take today will be crucial in the development of a better America and a better world.

Santiago R. Giner ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

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