Guiliane P.

  • 11th Grade
  • Maryland

What does America mean to you?

By Guiliane P.
Silver Spring, Maryland

The first time I stepped off my American Airlines flight to D.C. as a precocious 10-year-old, I pondered the different places I could visit and the things I’d do as soon as I stepped onto American soil. I had lived in several countries before America, so the concept of immigration wasn’t new to me. However, the appeal of the American Dream and new opportunity stands out from the other places I have lived in. Having learned from familial sacrifice and growing up, America is a country of opportunities within arms reach with the right amount of hard work and perseverance. Seven years later, after going through countless life-changing events since I stepped out of the doors of Dulles International Airport, came a shift in my values and a change in my perspective on the question of: what does America mean to me?

Being an immigrant in America taught me what resilience means. I learned to deal with xenophobia and hate rhetoric as an immigrant student suffering from culture shock at the age of ten. I entered my pre-teen years learning about the lengths of sacrifice as I watched my father risk his life to work as a front-line healthcare professional during the pandemic. Within that, I had to navigate the sudden shift of social regression as I entered high school for the first time without having in-person social interaction for two years because of the pandemic, just like every other American teenager. Along with many others in this generation, I forcibly came to terms with the new reality of growing up too soon and staying strong despite the struggles we all had to face post-lock down. I discovered my identity through it all and saw the importance of perseverance firsthand.

Living in America has also highlighted the importance of self-advocacy and instilled in me the value of standing for what you believe in. It means having the power to create change and innovate new ideas. Every American has different experiences and opinions on what America should be and look like, but I use this power to create change in my state and school system. What started as a way for me to get out of the social slump and leave my comfort zone, has become an outlet to use my voice and empower those still discovering themselves and what they stand for. I have since become involved with promoting change through public speaking and advocating for students through state and countywide legislation. I use my opportunity to advocate for equity for those without a voice and share my experiences as a first-generation student from an underrepresented school to enact change where I can. I have spoken to countless legislators to pass bills enhancing opportunities for immigrant students, advocated for increasing academic opportunities and funding to underrepresented schools, lobbied for environmental sustainability bills, and promoted academic equity to strive to close the present achievement gap. I have continued to fight for equity for the vulnerable community I live in, and within my advocacy, I learned about the true meaning of growth and justice.

To me, America still stands as an opportunity to learn different morals from experience and grow as an individual. Looking back seven years later, with more experiences and thoughts in mind, I still believe in the American Dream. I still think that despite hardship, being American means learning to stand up against adversity, believing in hope against all odds, and coming together as one. Despite the challenges getting here, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it werent for my American experience, and I will continue to stay true to that and spread my vision of the American Dream to the next generation.