One nation undivided

By Story of America Team

“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” –JFK     

Edwin Valasquez.jpgIt is the year 1990. I am living in a small town called Indiantown, Florida. A son born to immigrants who came to the US from Guatemala in the mid 1980s seeking a better life. They settled in this small quiet town. We lived in poverty and my parents worked hard every day in the fields to provide for our food and rent in a trailer that we lived in. There would be times where I would not see my mother for weeks at times because she would end up working two jobs.

Even though south Florida didn’t really get snow, it would still get very cold. These were the months I didn’t like because our trailer didn’t have heater. I would stay under the covers for the warmth. Our lives in the grasp of poverty would go on for years.

Fast forward to the present. It is December 4, 2012. I am currently deployed in Afghanistan. I am a Staff Sergeant and a leader in the US Army. I am close to finishing my tour out here. This will be my second tour in combat in my seven years of service.

Although I love the military, the loss of my friend in the War in Iraq has been too much for me to handle. My parents continuously tell me to finish my last years in service and move onto another career. I plan on adhering to their advice.

Ah yes, my parents. My parents live in North Carolina on their own ten acres of land and are successful entrepreneurs in agricultural commerce. As I look back to how far we’ve come since 1990, I ask myself one question: what made it possible for me to get here to where I am now? As I question this, I look back in history, not only in my history, but everyone’s history that I got the privilege to know, to work with, and to be friends with.

Joining the military gave me an insight into many people’s walk of life, their roots, their history, their struggle, their ideas, their reasons. I have noticed that although each of us have lived a different life, we have a common ground on a simple notion. A notion on which we defend and fight for our family, for our children, and for our country. A notion that is slipping in the minds of our politicians and leaders. We have lost our vision on what is really at stake here. In my opinion, this is what seems to be dividing our country as a whole.

Instead of seeking common ground, we have created walls made of cynicism, greed, ignorance, corruption. We are divided by these walls. We’ve created friction on our most pressing issues in economic reform, immigration reform, social issues and so forth. We have grown an attitude of “my way or the highway.” We have stopped talking face-to-face with civility to solve these issues. We have forgotten what our common grounds and ideas are. We have clashed our ideas with one another. And yet, we continue to wait for our leaders to decide the fate of our future.

I would like to say that I know the answers to our issues. But I don’t. What I do know is that we cannot wait for our leaders to find the answers. We cannot watch from the sidelines as corporations define our history. We must be the ones to take the steps forward, to be involved, to make a difference. There’s a saying that goes “when the people lead, the leaders will follow.” We have an obligation as citizens to find those solutions. As citizens we owe our society. We owe it to our future.

I do not fear for our future; I have hope. Hope in us and in our society. Hope that we can break down those walls between us so we can find common ground. Hope that we can look beyond those last social and racial barriers that still linger. Hope that we can look into our history and our roots to find our soul and spirit of our nation that we have long forgotten. A nation that once lit a beacon as a welcoming signal to immigrants and people of all walks of life. A beacon that once signaled that we are a diverse nation of many ideas, of different cultures, and a place for a chance for prosperity for all. This is what brought my parents to this country. This is what allowed my parents to live the American Dream. I go back to the question that I asked myself earlier and realize that it is because of our history it is what made possible for people like me to stand where I do now. 

American author David McCullough once said “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” History tends to repeat itself. Let us not hold fast. Rather, let us embrace it, rewrite it, and pass it on so that our future generations may one day tell our stories.