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While colorful fireworks burst through the dark skies, and red, white and blue flags flap in the wind, a sense of pride swells up in me. Not an arrogant pride, but one of gratitude and appreciation. Let me tell you why.

As I sit at my computer tapping on my keyboard, comfortable in my home’s air-conditioning and other luxuries, my mind goes back to my native country of Bolivia. I go back to my birthplace, where daily protests block streets and put an abrupt halt to business. Homes where electricity, water and gas are often available for only hours at a time and are sometimes turned off completely without notice.

Schools with empty classrooms abound—teachers are marching through streets demanding a raise in pay from their monthly salary equivalent to $150. Remote areas exist where indoor plumbing and electricity are unknown, with no hope of ever enjoying these amenities that we take for granted. A government that fosters corruption and selfish ambition keeps the country stagnant. A land where a "give-me" mentality prevails over diligence and commitment.

Unfortunately, I believe I’m describing not just Bolivia, but the majority of third world countries where there is no 4th of July celebration. Instead, hopelessness sends fireworks of anger, rage and bitterness. Freedom often means more opportunities to experience gloom and poverty. Although my native country, its people, and its scenic countryside still tug at my heart with love, my appreciation for my American citizenship grips me with awe and gratitude.

As immigrants entered its borders centuries ago, they united in arduous work and sacrifice, enduring suffering to lift its principles and liberty for us to enjoy today. They marched to their place of work without making demands on the government. Rather, they put their demands on themselves in the spirit of prosperity. Their patriotism shone with their desire to build a country where freedom prevailed, and they united in an effort to give to the community rather than insist on benefits without earning them.

Coming from an immigrant who knows both sides, I would shout today from the rooftops, "America is still the greatest country in the world!" But the greatest obligations we have are to embrace her ways, learn the language, adjust to her culture, and contribute rather than tap into her resources. And while our family keeps our Hispanic culture in our hearts with its music, ethnic dishes and traditions, our desire is to support unity, not promote division. And this writer believes demands for drastic changes in the laws that contradict the principles exalted by the founding fathers might dangerously nudge us to a "Divided States" rather than a "United States."

As we celebrate our Fourth of July holiday, may we all toss our colorful ethnic contributions into a blend of strength, sound principles and unity for our country!

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