Recently, as I was reading about the current Latin American immigration issues facing our country, I remembered a story my father told me. Years ago, he and my two brothers were in Ecuador. My oldest brother was living there and teaching English, biding his downtime by taking cab rides around Quito so he could practice his Spanish with the cabbies. My father and middle brother were visiting, enjoying the fresh local take my eldest brother had on the sloped city that he had inhabited for nearly a year. It was good to be reunited. Then, near the end of the trip, my middle brother lost his passport. This is a major inconvenience at best, or a minor catastrophe at worst. To obtain a brand new passport before their flight back to The States was going to be very difficult. But thanks to the strength of the American Flag and its influence, this amounted to nothing more than a bit of perspective for the whole family.
After it dawned on my brother that his passport was gone, the three of them went directly to the American Embassy. As they walked to the front, they passed a small line of Ecuadorians in their Sunday best, all of whom appeared to be waiting for something. They skirted the line and were immediately admitted and led into a bright, clean, air-conditioned waiting area with high ceilings and portraits of American presidents. A smiling young American woman told them it would just be a moment, and offered them coffee and soda in the meantime. The hushed, sterile solitude of the Embassy discouraged my family from saying anything to one another as they waited. But their quietude was promptly interrupted by the swift clicking of an authoritative heel coming towards them across the spotless granite floor. It was the Director of the American Consulate, already light-heartedly chiding my brother for losing his passport. The new passport was ready an hour later.
Relief. With the new passport in hand, they left the Embassy. As they crossed the courtyard and began walking on the sidewalk, they saw the line of Ecuadorians from before. Although they recognized the same people at the front, the line had grown so much that it wrapped around the Embassy building nearly two times. To get to the front of this line meant hours and hours of waiting in the stifling equatorial heat, hoping to be let in before the Embassy closed for the day. The goal? To secure the paperwork in order to begin the application process to legally enter the United States and ultimately become a citizen. The gateway to a better life. Of course, this is a long shot at best. To successfully maneuver through all of the steps and gain legal entry to the United States before thousands of other, equally qualified countrymen has a lot to do with luck. My family noted how melancholic the whole scene appeared to be. Everyone had their head down, not talking at all. One man, in particular, stood out: he was older (but not elderly), wearing a green suit, lightly pressed green shirt, and a dark green tie. His hair was neatly combed and his shoes were shined. He held a briefcase. There had to be papers inside (proof of something) that maybe no one would ever see. But he continued to wait in the quiet line, hoping that one day he would be able to present the contents of his briefcase to someone important.
The stark difference between these two situations is very poignant. Sometimes it is lost on all of us how lucky we all are to have been born in the United States and to be American citizens. But as the summer unfolds and patriotism kicks into gear, think of the man with the briefcase, hoping to get a taste of something the rest of us may take for granted.