I write you a love letter that needs to be read today. A love letter that I’m sure you haven’t read before.
I sometimes take you for granted and forget your importance. But you reminded me recently how life would be very different without you. You sent a messenger to deliver your message, to remind me how invaluable you are.
It was a short message, only 28 words. But those few short words were all I needed.
28 words written on parchment that only until recently did I remember to not take for granted.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
That’s the opening statement for the 14th amendment. The amendment that without it, my life living within the United States would have been very different.
It’s those 28 words that opened up doors for me. Those words gave judgement on whether I would be living out loud, living in the shadows or living in any other place than the greatest country in the world.The same country that gave the world light bulbs and airplanes, Google, Martin Luther King, Serena Williams, Maya Angelou and Beyonce. You see where I’m going with this?
As a first generation Latina I always understood how different things would have been for me had I not been born in a hospital in a tiny town in California. I understood that the only thing standing between me and a very different quality of life was 500 miles away. I understood that I was receiving a great education and that it was free and that that was a luxury afforded to me because I lived as a citizen within these borders.
I was grateful again when I became a mother because I knew that the shame I carried for being a single mother was a small price as compared to what women in other countries have to pay. I was allowed to raise my son, I was allowed agency over my body. That is a luxury I have as a citizen of this country.
But those luxuries would not have been afforded to me had it not been for the men and women that made sacrifices and fought for that significant change in American law.
February 14 is valentines day, but it also marks the halfway mark of Black History Month.
You can’t talk about the accomplishments of African Americans without acknowledging the struggle generations of people went through to be accepted as fully human and citizens with rights as any other. We wouldn’t be able to laud the accomplishments of the greats without acknowledging the struggle of their ancestors.
Black History Month is not just for those that identify as African American. It’s not a time to just pay lip service to honoring the past without identifying how our history impacts our future.
Often times I’ve seen how Latinos forget that the struggle of Black America is our struggle too. Our issues are in tandem. If one group rises up, the other is pulled up with it. Progress is progress for all.
The 14th amendment is a birthright I have in this country to be accepted and treated like every citizen. Like generations before me, this birthright changed how my life turned out. And so it’s only fitting that today on the day we proclaim our love, that I proclaim my love for how 28 words ,a civil war, and years of praying on freedom altered my life course, hundreds of years later.
So with my birthright comes my responsibility to those generations that come after me. The same way the 14th amendment didn’t just change the lives of those freed slaves, I must live my life in a way that doesn’t just change life for myself but for people that come after me looking for the same hope of freedom.