“A SHARED HERITAGE”
March 23, 2019
In my 80s now, I have lived through the end of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and participated in Vietnam and the twilight struggle that peacefully ended the Cold War. I’ve witnessed 9-11 and its aftermath, too. There were always things that divided us, but there was an even stronger force that united us – love of country. Our country, the last best hope of mankind, the good old U.S.A., that “shining city on the hill.”
But over the past few years, things have changed and love of country and unity have suffered. And, our great nation and we as a people are much worse off because of this drift. Our history, as all histories, has some blemishes. Slavery was a widespread and long-lived curse on humanity. And, we, as a much smaller nation in the 1860s, spent 400,000 young lives to end this scourge. Even afterward, parts of the country still had Jim Crow and the KKK, but we also fought two world wars and sacrificed even more young lives to help guarantee freedoms. We were generous in our peace terms of the Second World War and helped our enemies rebuild their nations, as well as those of our allies.
Throughout our history, we welcomed folks from all over. When the Potato Famine took innocent lives in Ireland, we welcomed Irish refugees. Yes, some among us called them “Green Horns” and others refused them work. Similar things, both good and bad, happened to the Italian immigrants, the Jews, the Poles, and those from Japan and China. But, all of them became proud Americans and prospered under the freedoms and fairness of their adopted country.
What made us all proud to be Americans was a shared heritage. Rather than being scores of different tribes, with old wounds yet unhealed and scores unsettled, we celebrated a togetherness as “Americans.” We lived our motto of “E pluribus unum.” In school we learned and recited the Pledge of Allegiance and every classroom had an American Flag. We celebrated July 4th with parades and flags, and Flag Day, and all the other national holidays, too. If some of our friends, workmates, classmates, or even relatives had different sexual proclivities, we never knew it nor bothered to ponder about it. We had friends and classmates, and workmates of all sizes and colors, and some spoke languages other English at home; but, we were all Americans, all of us.
But now, sadly I feel, for the first time, that many of us have been conned into self-dividing our identities into those many tribes by hyphenating our Americanism. My Mom was born in Hungary and arrived in the US in 1912 at the age of 3. My Dad’s great parents came from Bavaria and Wales in the 1850s. No one in my family ever called themselves anything except “Americans.” My Mom was never a “Hungarian-American.” And my Dad was never a “German-Welsh-American.” So, if I were to hyphenate myself, how would I do it? Why would a dark-skinned friend who descended from unfortunate folks captured by their countrymen in the African wilds in the 18th century wish to define himself as “African-American” after 300 years? Why have we become so obsessed with national origins or race?
The greatest freedom of being an American is the right to choose to do or become almost anything: to achieve the heights of success or to fail spectacularly. But, each person is free to make his or her own choices and must do so early and often. What would I like to do with my life? What courses should I take? How can I get enough life experience to choose properly? Our schools are supposed to help us decide these things. Everyone has different skill-sets and talents. No two folks are the same. Some who are very tall are poor at basketball, while others who are shorter may excel. Nothing is foreclosed. Of course, different outcomes are to be expected. Sameness of outcomes cannot be manufactured by the government or any other instrument as long as we have free will and equal opportunity to make our life choices.
Without differences we would have no stars, no favorite singers, or musicians, or restaurants, or styles of clothing. But, none of those differences hyphenate us. We can all be different (and are) but still be Americans and share in her greatness. Let’s not let self-haters among us destroy our bonds of brotherhood and love of country. Such folks are not our friends. They revile the truth that America is “that great shining city on the hill” and serve to divide us for some ulterior purpose. Don’t let them do it. “…Be proud to be an American…” just like the song says.