Although I wrote this for my own blog at the end of last year, it's relevant today. As we remember what happened on 9/11 and how it affected us all, I began thinking of newcomers to the United States of America who may wonder where they fit in here.
America is special. Most of us realize that, but just what is the essence of America that sets us apart? Let’s forget our delusion of being the biggest and most powerful, because they are not the essence of our uniqueness.
As the 21st century’s first decade slips into history, we Americans have had quite a time, especially in the last two years. We’ve had a whole plethora of bad things to wrestle with – racial prejudice, political discord and stalemate, economic inequity, duplicity, greed and disaster including joblessness and foreclosures such that only our ancestors had seen.
We had a lot of disagreements; we had shouting, name-calling and insulting of each other, but we ended 2010 with record-breaking society-changing new laws. Our legislators finally decided that they would “listen to their better angels”, as President Obama said on Dec. 22 at the end of it all.
Having led with the doggedness of a bulldog with a bone and been called a wimp and other names, this multicultural leader showed patience, grace and amazing perseverance as he continued to work toward achieving the ideals for which he was elected.
Although he never put a timeline on them, he was finally able to keep a number of his promises just this past week after two years of unprecedented lack of cooperation from opposing legislators who stated that their only goal was to block anything Obama proposed, and to get rid of him. Their primary legislative issue was in protecting every single penny of the wealth of their fellow Republicans, and the country’s welfare be damned. The deficit be damned. The poor, jobless Americans be damned.
The American people protested vigorously, but we didn’t tear our country apart. Because, as Obama said, we are a country based on ideals, values and convictions and, in the end, we came together on points of common ground.
During this historic week, our Congress passed a law allowing gay people to declare themselves, as they serve so bravely in protecting our country. Whether we agree with our leaders’ foreign policy or we deplore it, we do - almost universally - support our troops.
Our leaders have decided to take care of workers who are still suffering nine years after they gave unreservedly to save people who were caught in the horror of the World Trade Center, and they confirmed America’s part of reduction and monitoring of Russia’s and America’s nuclear weapons.
When, as Republicans prepared to take over Congressional leadership, a journalist asked our President who will drive America during the next two years, he replied, "the private sector (the people) will drive America." What he meant was that we elected our leaders, and we have the privilege and responsibility of making sure legislators work toward the ideals which will bring our inequities into balance. Please remember always that this is our privilege and our responsibility.
All these points about Americans are true, but they’re not the essence of what makes America special. We are special because we are made of a mind-boggling range of individuals. America is not perfect; far from it, but neither are you and I. America is comprised of every sort of humanity imaginable. We come from every corner and pocket of the world. And we are driven, for the most part, by ideals, values and convictions. To recent Americans and immigrants who see America as only a place of moral degradation, an imperfect foreign policy and other negative points, I say, “Then, you see yourselves because you are America.”
Have you been seeing Americans as ‘they’? I hope you will come to realize that it’s simply not possible to use America only as a place to earn money, educate your children and live comfortably as you dream of returning to your homeland. Like it or not, whether or not you are a citizen, you are part of the fabric of America, and we need you.
We need your bravery in coming to a new land with seemingly strange customs. We need your economic values of frugality as you begin to gain a foothold on making your dreams come true. We need your humor and your values. We need the best of you; what you bring from your original lands. We need for you to realize that you can see yourselves as Americans without losing any part of who you are. You will enhance yourselves, as you learn to help your children to bridge your original culture and our ‘new’ culture. Do you realize that you may be nurturing and influencing the next President of these United States? Do you want your children to achieve greatness as Americans because of you, or in spite of you?
You make America special. I make America special; each and every one of us makes America special. Your potential makes us special. Our common ideals make us special – each of our own religion’s version of the Ten Commandments, our moral values – make us special. We all want the same things -- a safe, nurturing environment for our children, a good job, comfortable home, freedom to practice our religion, to be who we are and to live free from fear.
I realize that, like all of us, America is still a work in progress, and I invite each of us to keep working together as we help America to reach her full potential. In our diversity, we’ll look for the goodness and common ground in our fellow Americans (official or resident). We’ll enjoy and appreciate the differences among us; we’ll learn from each other and we’ll teach each other.
One of my favorite songs, by Bruce Springsteen, is titled, If I Should Fall Behind. It says that, ‘as we walk together our strides are different so, if you fall behind I’ll wait for you; if I should fall behind, will you wait for me?’ (paraphrased). So, I’ll ask each of you, will we walk together as Americans? If I should fall behind, will you wait for me? If you should fall behind, I’ll wait for you as we walk together to make our America even more special.