On the 13th of August 1964, the venerable SS Constitution, one of Cunard's finest ships, slowly approached the New York harbor at the break of dawn.
It was finishing its journey from Genoa, Italy, delivering her excited passengers safely back on American ground. Amongst the many nationals returning from a luxurious vacation, an immigrant family of four was about to make America their home.
As the Statue of Liberty came into view, with the majestic Verrazano bridge lit like a shimmering strand of pearls behind it, the little immigrant girl watched in awe as she realized just how far away they were from their native Romania, and where they were really coming to: America.
And right off the bat, they were going to stay at the Broadway Central Hotel, on 42nd Street, Broadway, the street of Hollywood fame, paved with the proverbial gold. That little girl was I.
Though the Broadway Central proved to be a rude awakening to New York, where my parents wouldn't let us out of our room for fear that prostitutes, drunks and rats would overtake us, there hasn't been a day since that I haven't been proud to be an American and thanked my courageous parents for making the journey into the unknown. Sound too saccharine sweet? Too Pollyanna-ish? Too sentimental? Think again.
Something that I felt without really understanding the implications of at that young age, something that was somehow conveyed to me by my parents and the reputation of America abroad, was that this was the country where basic human rights were fought for and celebrated. This was the country that liberated the Nazi war camps, where immigrants from all over the world came to take shelter from communists, fascists and anarchists. This was the land of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, Babe Ruth and Louis Armstrong, John Wayne and Mickey Mouse. This was the country where with hard work and determination, one could build a fulfilling life, educate your children and have hope for the future.
The sixties were the decade of free-love, the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr., the landing on the moon and the pill. One can only imagine the vast disparity between this country and my native country where my grandparents were the first in their small town to have indoor plumbing, where we had hot water once a week and freedom of speech was unheard of.
Through tremendous HARD work, my parents were able to practice medicine again in our new country and provide my brother and me with a life we didn't know existed. I am incredibly proud of the contributions my family has made in the fields of medicine, music and architecture. I am also deeply humbled by the great opportunities available to us and the organizations that made it possible for us to make this voyage.
But most of all I love it for what it stood for when I first came to this country: the basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With our government and political parties so split, antagonistic and vengeful, those ideals are being threatened to the very core. While it used to be that Americans stood for doing what's right for the people, many of our politicians now stand for doing what's right for them. Decisions that need to be made by each individual are threatened by political control, while the larger issues of education, health, jobs and opportunities for the middle class and poor may be debated by the private sector of big business, something that would be disastrous for us as a country. Who will control big business? Who will watch out for the worker when big business decides that the factory is no longer profitable to their pockets and closes it down? This country was built by many successful big businesses, but we have always taken care of our people.
Andrew Carnegie, born in Scotland, epitomizes the American Dream. He worked his way up from the bottom to become one of the wealthiest men in our history. But what made him truly great was that he devoted a great deal of that money to libraries, world peace, education and scientific research. He also created a retirement fund for his employees.
As members of each party vilify and blame the other, we are losing track of the passage of time and energy wasted on the battle of power rather than the struggle to put us back on the right track. The American public bounces back and forth every eight years, thinking we need change from a particular party. The truth is we do need change, but that change has to come from within each and every one of us. We have to take the best from both parties and move forward. We have to stop being brainwashed by the media, get educated about the issues and take an honest look at what is better for our country. And above all, have a conscience. Having a conscience, in my opinion, is the proof of a divine presence within each one of us. As Americans of all faiths and races, it is up to us, all of us whether we are civilians, military, government or clergy, to carry the sacred responsibility of conscience. That’s the language that needs to be put in the platforms.
In George Orwell's Animal Farm, the oppressed become the oppressors, a metaphor for what happened with communism. Taking it a step further, one could say that it is what happens with the attainment of power and the abuse of that power for personal gain. It's the history of the world.
Every great and profound idea was eventually manipulated to gain more control and more power. How could a Christian go to war, when Christ advocated love, compassion and forgiveness? How could a Jew be prejudiced, when the Jews were the victims of such horrific and absolute persecution?
And yet, we have not learned the lessons that have been so painfully placed before us. Power will not prove benevolent unless it is shared and aimed at the good of all the people. We have to do away with the hate and venom that is being spewed daily and start to listen to, and cooperate with, our fellow man.
So for the next two months, I urge you to become educated with the facts.
Think for yourselves. Click on FactCheck.org to get clarification on what’s true or not. I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat; we are all first and foremost Americans.
Alina Rodescu-Pitchon is a freelance architectural designer, photographer and writer. She is the proud mom of Ben, 25, and lives in Wilton.