Happy Fourth of July! As we celebrate our country's independence and freedom, we thought it fitting to share Francesca's story. Congratulations Francesca on becoming a U.S. citizen!
There has been much talk in the news about immigration lately, mostly under unfortunate circumstances. Europe is facing the hard question of how to accommodate so many desperate refugees while, in the United States, immigration is being used as leverage for political reasons.
All of us, in this connected and much smaller world, are citizens of the world. Borders are shrinking and, thanks to the social and web age, cultural differences are becoming if not smaller, at least better understood. This vision, while perhaps a bit utopic given the situation in many countries and the rhetoric we hear every day, is nonetheless the world view I would like to subscribe to.
I moved to the United States in 1998 to attend College. Since then, I have lived and loved in this Country. I have missed my own homeland, but I have also created a new life. And, recently, I obtained US Citizenship and a brand new US passport, becoming an official dual citizen.
The first time I visited California as a tourist, I immediately felt the pull that ultimately led to my citizenship. The glaring difference, in my eyes, was the free spirited and limitless way that everyone embraced their own individuality, without worries for social constrictions. All around, I saw adults and children doing exactly what they wanted to do: surfing, rollerblading, biking, visiting Disneyland dressed up as Mickey Mouse. To the untrained eye, Americans appear childlike and immature, attempting to recapture the excitement of childhood. Italy is a painfully beautiful country where people who stray from the norm are looked at with suspicion. I remember running surreptitiously in the mountains on isolated trails, or in lonely parks in town, hiding from the judging eyes of villagers with pitchforks.
In San Diego, where I went to college, people wore what they wanted, played hacky sack in the middle of the sidewalk, surfed and skateboarded at all ages, and, to put it simply, did what they wanted to do. Today, I wear neon shorts, pink sports bras and yellow shoes, and I feel right at home. In the U.S., I can go running with a horn coming out of my head, and nobody cares.
For me, this is the most attractive aspect of this land and what has granted me to become the person I am today. I might not be a refugee who escaped a war-torn land - in fact, I now find myself longing for the Alps more and more - but America allowed me to become exactly who I am supposed to be and to follow and embrace my love for the mountains.
In its defense, Italy is catching up. Trail running and many other sports have exploded, and every worthy American custom is embraced. An adult playing for a living is no longer viewed as a man-child, but as someone following a dream and worthy of admiration. With that said, you still can’t walk into a grocery store with rollers in your hair… a common site in the United States. You still can’t wear ridiculous clothes, and still, to this day, you can expect to be on display if you go running around town. However, the uppity attitude has shifted.
Now, with two passports in my bag, I still explore the beautiful places in the U.S. but I also look beyond to what is out there. I want to go to Norway, the Himalayas, Patagonia, New Zealand. I want to see the most remote and spectacular places in the world, and I don’t dismiss the possibility that one of them might become another home.
So, really, this Country has become like the International Space Station, an oasis to a limitless horizon below. That’s the way it should be, because the greatest country in the world is the world itself.
Francesca Conte is a professional runner, race director, and co-founder of Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports. She has won numerous 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile races. Born in Italy amidst the Alps, Francesca is now a proud U.S. citizen and splits her time between Virginia and Colorado.