Twenty three years ago, I sat on a shuttle bus from the airport and cried en-route to our apartment in a new country on the other side of the world.
One month prior to that, I was living in the Middle East. The Gulf War had just ended and I had let out a sigh of relief that my family was safe. Then that same week, my parents told me that we would be leaving the country that I had become so accustomed to, in hopes of starting a new life in the west. And just as quickly as it was announced, we packed up everything and left.
My parents landed in Toronto, Canada with dreams in their heart of starting a life with new opportunities. I on the other hand, was devastated. As a young girl who was about to enter my teenage years, I was terrified of starting anew.
For the next two years, we lived off our savings while my parents looked for work. We sacrificed. We shopped at thrift stores. We learned to do without. What I lacked in material things, was made up in love.
When my dad was offered a job in Texas, we jumped at the opportunity. We thought that coming to America would put an end to our struggles, but thus began our road to American citizenship. My dad, who had spent 40 years building his career, now started again from the bottom. For the next 10 years, we lived in this country on a visa that was contingent on my father's job. Losing his job would mean going back. And at this point, there was really no turning back.
For 10 years, my parents sacrificed time to see their family back home. We lived paycheck to paycheck. When we talked about our dreams, we always started with five words: "when we become American citizens...".
"When we become American citizens, we can travel the world. When we become American citizens you can see your grandparents again," my parents would say.
I remember the look of relief on my parent's faces when we took the oath of citizenship.
It is to this day, one of the most proud moments of my life.
I was finally a citizen of a country in which I lived. I was proud mostly of my parents. In one giant leap of faith, they left behind everything they had worked for, and changed the trajectory of generations to come.
If I could go back and talk to my younger self 23 years ago, I would have told her to be patient.
For what was to come would be the opportunity to vote, the opportunity to practice my religion with freedom, the opportunity to pursue any career that I wanted and the opportunity to voice my opinion without the fear of persecution.
In this land of opportunity, I found my home.
Like my story, there are many such immigrant stories. These are the stories that make up America.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I took an acting class for fun. After my first performance, the director suggested that I develop an Indian accent. "You won't get any roles trying to play an American," he said. In that moment, my heart broke.
The immigrant story is a constant struggle for acceptance. On this Independence day, I feel blessed.
Because I am American.
We left our mother country and traveled to many places before we found the country that adopted us. We are a part of the American story.
While there are many things people find wrong with this country, there are also so many that are right. I, an Indian American married a Puerto Rican African American. My brother married an Irish American. Our future generations will be a mixture of cultures and traditions that is the unique melting pot we call America.
We have found our American dream. And for that, I love this country. I belong here. From sea to beautiful shining sea.