For all its faults, ours is a brilliant nation – New York Daily News

While growing up in the United States since age 10, I felt fortunate to be living in this wonderful country. Prior to that, I had lived for nearly a year in refugee camps in what was then Yugoslavia. My parents and the vast majority of our fellow refugees longed to emigrate to the U.S. To live in a free and prosperous country was our dream — the fondest dream of families who escaped Hungary after the Soviet Army crushed the 1956 revolt against communism and foreign domination.
While confined to our refugee camps, we saw and experienced generosity coming from America. We knew that the U.S. government paid the majority of the cost of keeping us in the barracks we slept in and the food we ate. A big highlight of our year was the distribution of CARE packages. I particularly remember the delight that the women’s bag of goodies inspired for all of us. Ladies living for months in bunk beds in rooms with a hundred or more residents, possessing only clothing they wore or hand-carried while hiking across a dangerous border, regained their hidden sparkle. Lipstick-red smiling lips and the delightful aroma of perfume inspired optimism and lifted all our moods. That gift came from America, along with chewing gum for us children and the largest, sweetest lollipops I had ever tasted.
Candidates for American citizenship recite the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony, Dec. 11, 2020, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Washington Field Office in Fairfax, Va. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
When we finally arrived in Los Angeles, America did not disappoint. The first day I went to Clover Avenue Elementary School, the teacher talked to my classmates about the Hungarian Revolution and the brave youth who risked their lives to throw Molotov cocktails at Soviet tanks. My classmates followed his directive to be welcoming. When I didn’t understand what they said, they worked at explaining the meaning of words new to me.
My parents made it clear that we came to America to be Americans, not Hungarians living in America. We eagerly adopted American customs and celebrated holidays new to us, such as Thanksgiving. The concept of a holiday expressing gratitude for our good fortune was unknown to us prior to our arrival, but upon learning about it, we absolutely loved the idea of setting aside a day to give thanks for the freedom and opportunity to live in the United States.
It would be hard to fully describe my delight upon learning about Halloween. At first, I thought the other children were pulling my leg. “Oh sure, you just go up to any house, say ‘Trick or treat,’ and they’ll give you candy. You think I’m gonna fall for that?” Amazingly, it was true.
My family’s attitude helped us become Americans, and be accepted as Americans faster and easier. Within a few years, we joined the middle class. I got a great education and went on to a fulfilling career (as an anesthesiologist).
Of course, I didn’t grow up under the illusion that everything was perfect in this country. My history classes covered slavery, Jim Crow laws, the sorry treatment of Indians, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and many, many other regrettable incidents over the centuries. But I also saw that the direction of history in the U.S. led to greater freedom, opportunity and prosperity for an ever-larger number of ever-more diverse people over time. My own life demonstrated that you could come from the other side of the world and be welcomed into the national family. Furthermore, I believed that the arc of history, as Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared, bent toward justice, at least in my adopted country.
Given my lived experience, which tells a story of a generous nation exemplifying powerful and positive values, I am troubled by the current rancor in our country. I am sad that so many of my fellow Americans see racism, sexism, multiple other -isms, the awkward neologism of cis-heteropatriarchy and oppression of every kind as dominant forces in our society. I find it distressing that so many people want to divide us along the lines of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Furthermore, they want to dismiss my experience based on the color of my skin and/or some other inborn characteristic, suggesting I benefited from privilege.
Many Americans seem unaware of their immense good fortune living here. They lack gratitude for the blessings of freedom, opportunity and prosperity we have. The privilege of living in the United States was a dream for my fellow Hungarian refugees and it remains the dream of millions throughout the world today. While we continue to work on the project of building an ever more perfect union, my fervent hope this Thanksgiving is that more of us will appreciate the tremendous progress this nation has made since its founding and discover newfound gratitude for the amazing country we have the privilege to call our home.
Kadar is a Los Angeles-based writer and medical doctor.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News


Leave a Comment