Although it is publicly known that “Freedom ‘90” was George Michael’s commentary to his label at the time, it is also applicable to #MeToo and the increasing discrimination in the United States at large. He came out as a gay man and was a fearless champion for other recording artists to follow. George Michael is an icon and we must remember his lessons, acknowledging how the powerful message in the lyrics of “Freedom ‘90” confront multiple injustices in society.
I come from a family of immigrants. So much so that I would be rushing out of the house to run errands and I would hear one of the elders yell “Who’s Aaron” with a thick accent. It made me laugh so hard.
My grandparents, specifically on my Mom’s side, fled the rise of Communism in Russia. It was not a choice but a necessity as my Great Grandfather was a higher up in the Czar’s military and would have been killed or tortured had they not left everything behind in search of a better life. He took his family, left a life of privilege and ran. They ultimately ended up in Tehran, Iran where my Mom was born.
Living in Tehran in his 20’s my Grandfather saw the changing tide, back then the effects in society were subtle but he noticed them nonetheless. My Grandparents decided to move their young family to America. My Mom was only 6 months old at the time. Others came before them, specifically my Great Grandmother’s first cousin. Since their Dads were brothers it made them close family and so they petitioned and succeeded in receiving permission from US Immigration for my Grandpa’s family to immigrate, an iteration of “chain migration.”
Because of the way our extended family unit supported one another “we” kept coming over and were able to establish a new life without living in poverty, even though many of us were permitted to bring very little by way of assets, monetary or otherwise.
Three and four generations before us they sacrificed comfort and luxury for the promise of a more stable future for their children, grandchildren and beyond. I belong to a generation of American Armenians who are college educated or more, living on 6-7 figure incomes, starting or running businesses. My friends and relatives can be openly gay because of the Freedom this country offers.
But at this moment in time I look around and feel saddened. There is a sense of dread when I ask myself why does it look and feel like we are moving backwards? How can any racism be growing? It should be the opposite. How can acceptance of LGBTQ be declining instead of being more inclusive? How is it that a person who stayed in silence because of fear no one will believe he or she was sexually assaulted is villainized for having the courage to speak strength to power instead of being supported and believed?
One thing I know for sure is the very system which allowed my family and their relatives and friends to come to the United States and work hard for the American dream, to become valued contributing members of society, would not welcome us today.
We have an accused sexual assaulter and openly racist President. We have an accused sexual assaulter sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States- for life. LGBTQ people are being marginalized even though the Supreme Court has ruled that Gay Marriage is a constitutionally protected right. A woman’s right to choose is being chipped away at day by day.
I have performed on many stages and the only time I feel nervous is when I sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Why? Because every time I sing it I feel the strength, fears and determination of my Grandparents who came here to America so that we could have Freedom, a Constitutionally guaranteed right to Freedom. I wish I could thank them over and over and tell them I finally understand. Goodness, it certainly took me long enough to realize what they did and why by coming here.
My heart feels heavy when I think of the growing hate.
So today I dedicate this cover song release “Freedom ‘90” to the celebration of Diversity in all its forms.
Long live Freedom.