One day, I was sitting at the New Jersey kitchen table of my parents-in-law, eating my eighth plate of homemade Indian food, when something came on the tv. I don’t remember what it was exactly. Some sort of news about some sort of bad thing happening in a far off place. I remember my mother in law Lakshmi, staring across the room at the tv, comparing what she was seeing somewhere else to how she was living in the US. And then she said “this is the only place where one of the founding documents actually says you have the right to pursue happiness.”
That stayed with me, partly because it was insightful, mostly because I hadn’t thought about it before. How hadn’t I? I was born and raised in Massachusetts, immersed in American culture and pride, and I had never thought to single out that part of the Declaration of Independence. Over the years, over many plates of Indian food, I learned what Lakshmi knew. That she could recite many verses of the Declaration. That she knew about all the wars, from Spanish American to Korean. That she could name long dead Supreme Court justices. (This, on top of a deep love for Creedence and the Buffalo Bills). I scribbled down the lyric “I’ll tell your history better than you” and wondered if I would ever use it.
I eventually did, in ‘Fifth of July.’ These lyrics are my love letter to immigrants, who so often know more about America than the Americans they joined. On this day, and the day before, and on so many others, I think about my parents, my parents in law, and all the immigrants who came to this country and made it better.