Saturday, September 17, 2011

America: A Welcoming Country

America has always been a welcoming country. We are a nation of immigrants. We came here for many reasons, but most often in search of freedom. Whether that "freedom" was one of religion; both "of" or "from", or freedom of opportunity; to pursue one's ambitions. It may be freedom of associate with or from other individuals or groups. The choice was ours. All we asked of government was to be left alone; to keep to a minimal its intrusion on our lives. Our Founding Fathers were in complete agreement.

We came here speaking many languages and of different economic strata, but mostly poor. Most had little more than the clothes on their backs. Shoes were often optional. We knew life would be a struggle, but if we scrimped and worked hard, somehow the lives of our children might be better than ours had been. Most succeeded, though not necessary in the way they had envisioned. A few failed. But their success or failure was largely of their own making and not imposed on them by accident of birth.

Despite our teeming diversity, we were all linked by one thing; to be Americans. In whatever far off land we came, it was the common dream we shared. We often freely lent a hand to the newcomer. After all, we weren't that far removed from them. We never asked nor expected government to do what neighbors do freely for neighbors. A nation of which valued the individual was also the nation which came together as one.

What has changed? Have we become jaded? Perhaps arrogant or selfish with our freedoms? Certainly we are more cynical people than our forefathers. We learned not to trust our most trusted institutions; school, church, our employer, our employees, and most of all, our government. Skepticism, it seems, doesn't have a minimum daily dosage. It is true that we believe that our nation is second to none. Perhaps in our arrogance we've tried to force feed our values to the world. Many among us believe that we are a unique people chosen by God to be the "light of the world". Our national sense of freedom compels us to believe that everyone has the right to believe as they choose, even if imposed. Yes, we are indeed selfish of our freedoms, but America has never been a selfish country. We have give more to others than any other nation in history. If anything, we are a deeply compassionate people.

Perhaps then, what changed was not us, but the nature of the immigrant. We do not see today's "unwashed masses" seeking to become "American". In the name of compassion, we've embraced multiculturalism. We've encouraged immigrants to keep their customs, costumes, cuisine, religions, and the thread that binds, language in our misplaced compassion. In doing so, we lost the evolution of "becoming". The cure for freedom was worse than the disease of freedom. Once, we engaged in the "becoming" by accepting all that others brought with them. The national act of "becoming" was called the "Great Melting Pot". What was more "American" than a hamburger; hotdog; pizza; chow mien or everyone being Irish on St. Patrick's Day or German during Oktoberfest? We freely mixed and explored each other's religions and tradition, while in the Old World, they chose slaughter instead.

What stirred this "Great Melting Pot" was a simple ingredient. It was our common language. No matter where we came from; from what social class, we succeed because we could talk with each other. We even incorporated each other's words and expressions in to our everyday vernacular. It came known as "American English". It was our very mother tongue. Today's immigrant keeps their own language. By doing so, they remain a separate people. Not truly of their homeland. Not truly American.

Our governments mistakenly deepened the divide by making it easier to remain separate by encouraging immigrants to maintain their native language by creating multi-lingual documents. Businesses picked on this too. Short term profits over long term national oblivion. Once it was necessary to learn the host nation's language to survive and interact. Even the required tests to become a US citizen can be offered the language of your choice.

When we first came to these shores, we knew America was to be our new home. We severed our old loyalties. For today's immigrant, that is not necessarily true. Many routinely travel back and forth to their homeland; send money and other items back to the homeland. Their national loyalties remain afar, and it's reinforced down through the generations. Their ties still bind. They develop no attachment to the land that now supports them. Theirs is solely economic. As a result, they never accept the validity of our culture or our laws. Someone will always to defend them. Separate but more than equal is the new political reality.

What does it mean to be an American? That's a question we each must address; individually and as a nation. I believe there can be no divided loyalties. I believe that we are Americans by choice. In the land of the free, we are free to leave anytime we want to. We welcome those who want to add their uniqueness to ours. If you expect us to adapt, you may have a long uncomfortable wait. And while you're waiting, please learn our language. It's called English. It will help you blend in. Don't expect us to learn your language unless you're willing to learn French, Italian, German, Russian, Yiddish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, and every other language on this planet because that is what America represents; the best the world has to offer, and the only way we can continue to achieve is by being able to speak to each other.

Americans are a religious people. That doesn't mean we always attend a church, temple, mosque, synagogue, or a sacred grove. It does mean that we respect all religions equally. Even the right to no religion at all. If you can't accept that, you might want to stay where you're at.

There is no "honor" in "honor killings". Women contribute as much (if not more) as men. We are our equal partners in all things, so don't expect American women to bear your guilt and hide behind closed doors...or veils. And don't expect to hide behind your religion to impose your version of a second class status. We as a People respect religion, but we won't tolerate the intolerance of a caste system imposed in name of any god or social class.

Americans reserve the right to say what we want when we want about what we want. We will also write what we want about what we want. In short, it's our God-given right to freedom of expression. We'll also hang out with whomever we want too. That's called freedom of assembly. Wanna know more? Read the Bill of Rights. We realized there are certain restrictions. It's something else Americans tend to do well. We call it taking responsibility for our actions. When we don't, well, there are recourses for that too.

So, as hard as it is to believe, Americans will support your right to criticize us. But with that right, comes our right to respond in kind. And, so, with that, I will close this edition of Another Opinion. But in doing so, remember that being an American means being part of the many. Perhaps, then, it's no wonder that our defacto national motto has been "E pluribus Unum" or "Out of many, one."

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