Maybe I’m a little extra sensitive about immigration issues because my family was so recently immigrants to this country.
Having spent most of my life living in areas rich with cultures other than middle class white America, I find that the multi hued colors of Brooklyn’s streets, the gruff accents of the Inupiaq language and the heady smells of a walk through Little Italy in South Philly have always described America to me as much as, if not more than, a suburban neighborhood with neatly mowed lawns and trimmed hedges.
In order to get a true picture of America today, you need all those ingredients. If we are to stay true to the American dream, we can’t pick and chose which cultures and religions we want and which we don’t. Remember, America was founded by a group of religious misfits who wanted no government placing any restrictions on their ability to worship their god in their way. As important, they wanted no government telling them they had to worship any god at all.
No one ever said that living as a free nation would be easy. That’s why history up to this century is littered with the remains of kings, emperors and dictators. Ultimately, it’s easier to just let someone else decide how the game is played and who gets to play it.
If you are the majority, or of the same background and belief as those in power, you are fairly well assured that you will be within the charmed circle. So long as you are in this circle, the rules are no bother because they protect you from “them”.
The problem, of course, is that you wake up every day and pray that you still are inside the circle. Cause if one day you wake up on the outside, if one day you become “them”, life can suddenly get very difficult.
That’s why democracy and freedom are worth fighting for, so that none of us ever has to wake up outside the circle. But it’s hard in times like these to hold on to the belief that our circle must be wide enough to encompass this whole crazy patchwork quilt we call our country. Everyone, whether they are wearing turbans, Afros, Mohawks or orange robes, must be tolerated in this circle. Mind you I said tolerated, not loved necessarily, not even maybe liked very much. But tolerated.
There is a poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty written by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus”. Most of us are familiar with a few lines of it. I think the whole poem bears repeating because it is so relevant to the choices we are faced with in this suddenly very scary world. It goes like this.
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
If we are to be true to all that is greatest in America, we must keep that lamp lit. We must understand that the reason some hate us so much is that so many of their brethren want to make it to our shores because we are still the shinning beacon of light to those with nothing but dreams.
If we try to shut their dreams down, we kill our own dream. We kill our spirit and ultimately we do what no terrorist can do to us – we kill America.