Yearning to Breathe Free

There were no gay people when I was growing up. No one was bisexual, or even questioning. No one was transgender.

There was no religious intolerance, nor differences to reconcile, because there was only one god.

There were no interracial families since the prefix inter- requires the presence of more than one race. As far as we were concerned, there was only one, and we were it. So, there was also no racism.

There was not much police activity apart from routine interrogations, mostly around crimes committed by minds who begged to differ. For the latter, there were prison and exile.

There was no differentiation in classrooms because all students had absolutely identical needs and abilities.

There were also no physically or mentally challenged people. There were no shrinks because no one had depression, or any other ailings of the mind.

There were no bars or clubs because, like everything else that signaled diversion from established norms of being and conduct, drinking and letting loose were reserved for the confines of one’s home.

We were living in an age of prohibition, in exile from our very selves. But people were suffocating, and so they fought to breathe, and because thousands, millions were fighting, walls came crashing down, and the Phoenix rose from all the debris and followed the call of the freedom for which it had always hungered.

Many of us answered the call that pealed from the other side of the Iron Curtain, which had been lifted to reveal possibility and hope–that there might be a place for us in the home of the free. And so, hundreds of thousands of us boarded planes and ships to travel to a land that had always been at once unattainably distant and relentlessly lodged in our hearts and minds as the dream of a place where we could be our most authentic selves.

You said, “Give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and because it was as though you were speaking to us, we came to you.

You said, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and we answered the call, eager to both contribute to and benefit from its fruition.

You said, “One nation.” We said, “Yes.” You said, “Indivisible.” We said, “Yes, please.” You said, “All men are created equal,” and we believed you to be true.

And so, we dove into your freedom waters, certain that they were pure, and safe. But then, wave after wave came crashing down on us. One growls, “You are a homosexual, an abomination.”

The other screams, “You are a murderer because you had an abortion.”

The next smashes into us with, “You can’t go to college because you need to work three jobs to survive in this land.”

Before we have a chance to find our breath, another wave descends on us, telling us that the promise of the American Dream is not ours to hold. When we try to take our children to good schools and competent doctors, waves crash into us reminding us that we don’t live in the right neighborhoods or have the right health insurance.

A wave swallows us alive each time we find ourselves assumed to prescribe to an enemy’s ideology, wrongfully accused of crimes we haven’t committed, sentenced in front of juries with no peers.

Another wave comes on as piercing as a most vicious hail, bullets raining down on us from guns, which your politicians protect more ardently and staunchly than the lives of your children, unforgivably shaking the very foundation of our home.

Each wave takes us in until our feet can no longer touch the sand, swallows us into depths from which we can’t free ourselves, tosses us onto shore so violently as to leave us there, breathless and defeated.

Be who you said you would be, America. Give what you promised to give. Remember that when people are suffocating, they fight to breathe, and when thousands, millions begin to fight, walls come crashing down, and the Phoenix rises from all the debris and follows the call of freedom, for which it always hungers.

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