My brother-in-love was an immigrant. In 1968, when my sister returned to the United States after her first term as a missionary in South America, she brought home her fiancé — an Ecuadoran physician.

Like many families, my parents had some reservations about her marrying someone from a different country, particularly what that would mean about their visits with future grandchildren. You can imagine that it was difficult for them to hear about the birth of their grandchildren in Ecuador while the rest of the family was here.

Doors of opportunity opened for Dr. Cabascango, and soon they had a residency in this country.

In 1995, Dr. Cabascango stood with a number of men and women in Miami, Florida, at an impressive ceremony where new citizens are welcomed into our country. He earned my respect as a family member, a physician and as an informed citizen.

I feel sad for those people who do not learn what being an American means through the legal process of becoming a citizen. Not only does it mean gaining knowledge about our history and our laws as a nation, but also usually includes learning to speak English and acquiring the skills to assimilate into this country. This identification has been diluted.

What does it mean to be an American? More than just being born into one of our 50 states, Americans identify with a certain hope for mankind. Our Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

In recent years the word “rights” has taken a more encompassing meaning. Much of what the Constitution addresses has to do with legal and voting rights under the law. It does not guarantee protection for behavioral choices or preferences.

Most of the amendments keep the Congress from interfering or regulating the practice of religion, from prohibiting a citizen’s right to bear arms or from being forced to house soldiers in one’s home. Later actions abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote. It is clear the Constitution intends to protect us from government and reacted to the excesses our forefathers had experienced in the forms of tyranny.

The Declaration of Independence clearly delineates the freedom to be born (the right to life), the freedom to have opportunity (liberty) and the freedom to work to fulfill your personal dreams (the pursuit of happiness). Our family was enriched by sharing these goals with someone from another culture and nation before he died in 2016.

As we wish our nation another birthday, let us resolve to rediscover and reassert the hope and the qualities that have made us the envy of the world.

President Herbert Hoover said it well: “It is those moral and spiritual qualities which rise alone in free men, which fulfill the meaning of the word ‘American.’ And with them will come centuries of further greatness for our country.” (Aug. 10, 1948)

Happy Birthday America, and may each of our families be encouraged to live out this American Dream!

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as the president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is a Canton resident.

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