Oh Say Can You See….
This July I am thanking my father for teaching me to appreciate and respect the freedoms we have in this country. There are many things my father didn’t do well, and that is all behind me and my siblings. As years have passed, we have sifted through our childhood and have come to reconcile his shortcomings, we unanimously agree, our father was a true patriot.
Dionicio Villaverde was born in 1926 in Mesa, Arizona to a Yaqui Indian woman from Mexico working the melon fields. His father Cliofas Villaverde, a Mayan Indian, also from Mexico worked the railroad. At the age of six, his parents moved back to Mexico where he grew up until the age of twenty when he relocated to Ajo, Arizona as a laborer in an open-pit copper mine for the next 42 years. I do not use the word ‘laborer’ lightly. Standing at five feet, two inches tall, working manual labor during day and night shifts, no matter the circumstances, time or weather conditions, he was committed to earning his stay in this country. He also worked a second job on weekends as a musician and singer to earn extra money. Reciting the words from President John F. Kennedy, my father would often paraphrase, in his broken English: Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. He paid taxes, voted at every election and learned to read and write English. Without a doubt, Dionicio loved the United States. His gratitude to have been born a citizen was a sign for him of a lucky man.
To make sure we appreciated our country as well, our parents sent us to live in Mexico during the summer months. We stayed with family in tiny homes with no running water or electricity, limited food, and few conveniences. We had very little in our own homes in Arizona but the comparison was noticeable and a welcomed relief when returning home. Our parents accomplished what they set out to instill within us, an appreciation and a strong connection with this country.
My father taught his children the value of freedom. He spoke of it often and encouraged us to see the possibilities available to anyone by the simple fact that we could find work. He enforced his appreciation for the country upon us and anyone who would listen to him. No matter where we were at the time, when the United States national anthem was played, he insisted we stand immediately and place our hand over our heart. Every time, my father stood in this posture during the piece of music, tears streamed down his face. It was an emotional display of deep gratitude.
To this day, that song brings back a million memories for me. Mostly, I feel the pride imbedded in me of having received the gift of living in this country. Of course every country has its history and cultural contributions and people are kind and generous throughout the world. And I am not glossing over our current social and political climate and am aware of our country's blunders and mistakes. But there is not one country that has not made its mistakes. But at some point in our lives, we must stop seeing everything that is terrible and begin to discover what is amazing, as Mahatma Gandhi so clearly stated: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”, affirming we must first see it within ourselves in order to build it in the world.
Never the less, this July when I hear the words,
Oh say can you see....
I will think of my father and appreciate his love for the country that gave him freedom, a vision and a song to remember his great luck.
God bless our country and God bless our beautiful world. Let us celebrate the independence our founding fathers worked so hard to create.
To my father, may he be resting in peace.