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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Proud to be an American?

I used to find it amusing over the past year to watch as airport gift shops change their merchandise. Of course, the classics remain: Empire State Building key chains, star spangled T-shirts, and mini Statues of Liberty. A few new items have popped up since the 2016 campaign. The “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump campaign memorabilia are now featured front and center so international tourists can bring back some authentic American artifacts.

I no longer find it amusing.

This break I visited a little road on the border between upstate New York and Canada. A short drive from the nearest town, this little dirt road with low houses on either side is bisected by a small ditch that forms the northern border. On the other side, a few feet back, the road starts back up; same houses, same dirt, only this time in Canada. In the past year, nearly 17,000 individuals have illegally crossed the border from the United States into Quebec in order to seek asylum at illegal border crossing points like the one I saw.

The vast majority of these people were Haitian refugees whose lives were torn apart in the 2010 earthquake. Others come from Syria and Yemen, and all feel that they can no longer stay in the United States. They are refugees, fleeing first natural disaster and war, and now us.

I stayed no longer than a few minutes and saw no one. There were tracks in the snow however, where the taxis had turned around after dropping off passengers and then the thin wheels of suitcases headed north. There were footprints too. Some of men and women and some of their small children. Part of me wished someone would have come by and I could have talked to them.

I wished that I could explain to them that there is more to us than it would seem. We are more than this. The United States that put a man on the moon still exists. The United States that sculpted the liberal international order from the ashes of the Second World War still exists. The land of opportunity, the home of the American dream all of this still exists. But that’s not what these people saw. These people came here, hoping to make a better life in this country and unlike the generations of immigrants and refugees before them, they didn’t see an America worth adopting. They saw a scared and angry country and they wanted out. Those thin tire tracks were those of individuals, often whole families, running away from us.

That quiet little road with the wheel marks and the footprints made me ashamed to be an American.

When I was flying back to school at the end of break, I flew through Newark. It was early in the morning and as we were landing I was able to make out the Statue of Liberty through the glare of the rising sun. I could only see it for the briefest moment before it was lost between the buildings of Manhattan, but for that moment I was struck by how small it looked, how insignificant. The great symbols of our nation only mean something if we make them mean something. If we are to be the type of country we claim to be — open, hopeful and confident — then we must live it every day. I’m not sure what that looks like, but I know that whatever we’re doing now certainly isn’t enough.

Griffin Cannon is a junior studying Political Science from South Burlington, Vermont. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization. BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together people from all across the ideological spectrum to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Monday nights in the McNeil room of LaFortune from 6-7 p.m. They can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.