On Sunday, we celebrated our nation’s birthday, and this took me back to Aug. 1, 1990, when I had the privilege to visit “the land of the free, because of the brave” — my dear USA.

Born in Panamá, Republic of Panamá, I came to the States on what started as a 30-day vacation, and it ended up as a 30-year love story, two sons, an amazing career, and most importantly, amazing people whom I can call friends.

This land welcomed me, and gave me the opportunity to better myself. I grabbed it, and, I was afraid to let it go. I fear I would lose it just like I lost my daddy at age 16, and lost my freedom at 18.

It was May 1989, when our country held presidential elections. Five days later, they had not called the election’s results. Noriega’s regime had every intention to steal it, and establish himself. It was then when “we the people” (my favorite words in the Preamble to the United States Constitution) decided to exercise what you know here as “the first amendment right.”

Although these words are part of the history,  and are the fundamental ideas that make this country unique, they are applied all over the world. Let’s remember that the United States is the leader of the free world! We decided to peacefully march to the presidential palace, say the Lord’s Prayer and sing the National Anthem. Unfortunately it didn’t work. We were attacked by Panamanian militaries, and seven months later we were liberated by the United States armed forces. Does this story sound familiar? Maybe not. However, for some of us who lived under dictatorship, some Cuban Americans, some Venezuelans Americans, some Chinese Americans, some Middle Easterns, and to “most” patriots Americans, the answer is “yes”. We understand, value and appreciate the sacrifices made to have the privilege of living in peace and liberty.

On Jan. 6, I went to Washington D.C. I never dreamed that I would find myself doing the same exact things that I had done 30 years earlier in my little country. We sang the National Anthem, said the Lord’s Prayer and peacefully walked to the Capitol. It was very emotional, and I didn’t want to do it all over again. I was exercising my first amendment right, and standing up for the country that has given me so much, and for all the veterans and people who wanted to be there, but couldn’t.

It is for this reason that today I am reaching out to “all of you” on our country’s birthday. Regardless of your political affiliation, race, gender or your views on women’s choice, please, let’s put those feelings aside, and let’s unify to protect our most precious God-given right: our freedom.

P.S. No matter what the media says, and what some people want to call it — I was there. I saw it. It wasn’t an insurrection! Please, don’t stereotype, for it is not nice. It divides, it doesn’t unify. Feliz cumpleaños — happy birthday, USA, and God bless America.

Zenaida Smith

Raceland

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