Last night I sat with my family around the table, already hearing sounds of firecrackers. The conversation wound its way to focus on who lives here, in the United States, and in what conditions. My daughter pointed out that there is a huge immigrant population, and many are living in poverty. Both my son and daughter went on to talk about poverty, in the United States and in the world, with the statistic that 80% of people in the world are living on $10 or less each day, many on less than $2 a day. There is significant poverty in this country, generally not to that level, largely because of minimum wage laws for people who are able to find jobs. However, in this country, homelessness is increasing. We went on to talk about different levels of poverty, and that in this country, most people do have sanitation and clean water, whereas that is an enormous problem in other parts of the world, making a big difference in complications of illness and death. Per UNICEF, 22,000 children die every day because of poverty.
Immigrants originally came to the “New World” looking for economic and religious freedom, and new opportunities. They, too, were strangers to this land. Since then, many waves of immigrants have arrived, each culture adding something important. If you are not a Native American, you or your ancestors came here from somewhere else. Many people have come to escape poverty or war, longing to have their children live. Many continue to live in poverty.
Today is Independence Day, with parades and fireworks, picnics and music. It celebrates a separation in which this country’s founders pushed away dependence on the “old country” and its policies and taxes.
Independence has different meanings. For the young, it means separating from parents, being able to make your own decisions, assume financial and personal responsibility, and is more about the maturing brain. For the old, it means being able to live on your own, handle your activities of daily living, and is about both the aging body and the aging brain. For both, it involves taking responsibility for personal health and well-being, to the extent that this is possible within the larger context of the surrounding political and economic conditions.
In the arena of nations, independence has not meant taking responsibility for the health and well-being of all inhabitants. Sanitation, clean water, adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and education are not available to all the people of this planet. It is true that all nations have poverty, but some have much worse conditions than others. People come to the United States because they hope to find work, and have better lives. They have heroic qualities of persistence, hope, determination, and self-sacrifice. These people are the same as those who became the founders of this country.
On this Independence Day, let us remember that independence comes with responsibility; this nation is independent and sovereign, yes, but it needs to care for people’s basic needs. Let us rededicate ourselves to helping people who are in need. Let us eradicate homelessness. Let us welcome immigrants, for we ourselves were strangers.