Which America Do You Want?

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The above buttons represent sentiments that were commonly seen as bumper stickers during the Vietnam War era. The former was by far the most prevalent, but the latter could be seen on the vehicles of anti-war activists. Then, as now, political polarization was the rule rather than the exception.

Ever the bellwether of social trends (if only to make fun of them,) Mad magazine featured a recurring segment by Al Jaffee entitled “Hawks and Doves:”

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Tragically, the politics of the America that I have known (from Kennedy, who was the earliest president about whom I was old enough to care, to the present day) has been defined by the black-and-white fallacy. I recall my mother having said, “If Goldwater wins, we’re moving to Switzerland.”

The typical “love-it-or-leave-it” stance is epitomized in this song by Joyce Shaffer:

Now that’s a really catchy song, and she makes some good points about government transparency, money and special interests taking precedence over the voice of the people, and similar things – but it still sends a strong message: If you don’t agree with our philosophy, you are less-than and not welcome in this country, and you had best get out.
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These are my grandparents. They immigrated to this country in around 1900, came through Ellis Island, settled in the great metropolis of New York, and raised a family. They worked their butts off, and although they never were terribly successful at learning English, their kids went to school and did, and became honorable and productive members of this society, all the while injecting some wonderful Italian flavor into the world around them.
Wanderbuch Cover Page
This is the cover page from the Wanderbuch (sort of a hiking journal) of my wife’s great-grandfather, who was born in Bavaria and who came to this country in around 1850. My wife’s father spoke no German, so it’s a good bet that the descendants assimilated well, all the while bringing some German feelings, attitudes and philosophies to the general mix.
The thing about the many waves of immigrants that washed upon our shores is that they came to enjoy and appreciate the freedoms and opportunities that our land has to offer, and were not intent on re-making this nation in the image of the lands of their birth.
Immigration has not been without challenges, and I’ve written about some of the specifics before. Strict interpretation of the “love it or leave it” philosophy can lead to such atrocities as Japanese internment camps, which must never again be allowed to happen.

“Many who say “Love it or leave it,” are sincere. But their tersely stated ultimatum smacks of death not life. For if all who love America uncritically were to stay, and all who criticize America were to leave this nation, described by one of its founding fathers as “the world’s best hope,” would fast disappear.” – Dr. Ernest T.C. Campbell

That said, no group who has come to our country must ever be allowed to re-cast our basic laws and/or constitution to suit their particular ideology – any such attempt must be doomed to failure.

On the other side of the coin, America has changed since its inception. The founders had enough foresight to place into the Constitution a way of changing it, but it had to be a difficult way that made sure any changes reflected the will of the people. It’s not easy to get an amendment passed, but it has happened – and mostly for the good.

The Bill of Rights. Emancipation. Voting rights. And 24 others. Over time, change must happen or a nation stagnates.

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I firmly believe it’s time for our nation to move forward into the 21st century in spirit and not just in calendar date. There are far too many things still wrong in our country; unequal opportunity, the persistence of racism, over-militarization of police departments, a deeply entrenched culture of misogyny, and a continuing belief by those in power over our lives that fighting for “truth, justice, and the American Way” involves running roughshod over other nations to plunder their resources and subvert their cultures to our benefit.

The above clip is part of a show… how I wish it had been a real speech. And it’s not perfect, because it ignores the economic terrorism that was going on under our noses during the great period of history that was being referred to. But it brings up some critical points, and casts the harsh light of reason on areas where our country needs improvement.

Unadulterated “Love it or Leave It” implies a nation that works for only a very restricted subset of our population, and not for everyone. Rigorous “Change it or Lose It” fails to focus on the things that have made and continue to make our nation a desirable destination for many of the world’s citizens.

As with anything, we need to strike a balance:

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Those of us who have been blessed with American citizenship by birth, and those who seek to become members under that head, need to have a deep and abiding love for the Constitution of our land and the principles upon which it was founded. But we also need to take a hard look at our country and make a concerted effort to change the things that only work for a few and exert downward pressure on the many, all the while maintaining and defending those parts of our heritage that (in a positve way) set us apart for so long from the rest of the nations of the world.

Education is key. We need to raise new generations of people who are wanter/needer/finders, people who can look around at problems and say, “I can do something about that” and who truly have the skills to do it. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

America: Beautiful in any language

I recently posted about my experience watching two of my friends become American citizens. Now comes the Superbowl with its spate of commercials, one of which has generated some sentiment that absolutely should not exist in this country.

It’s a simple concept. People of various nationalities singing “America the Beautiful” in their own language. But for sheer ignorance, have a look at some of the Twitter comments recently posted about this commercial:

  • The Coca-Cola Co. Should apologize for the ridiculous #SuperBowl commercial #AmericaTheBeautiful should ONLY be in one language #English
  • Heres List Of ALL #Coke Products-BOYCOTT! Our Language Is #English Not Turkish! http://www.coca-colacompany.com/brands/all/ #SuperBowl #Broncos #SeaHawks #sports
  • Really glad I drink @Pepsi and not @CocaCola because that commercial was just AWFUL next time #ENGLISH please! #SB48 #SuperBowl
  • If you want to come to this country fine we welcome you BUT your going to sing America The Beautiful in #ENGLISH & drink #PEPSI #SUPERBOWL
  • I don’t think a commercial that sings in other than #English is a good idea #SuperBowl am not gonna buy ur product anymore
  • WTF?  @CocaCola has America the Beautiful being sung in different languages in a #SuperBowl commercial? We speak ENGLISH here, IDIOTS.”

The xenophobia and ignorant racist vitriol being spewed out onto the Internet breaks my heart. Yet these people seem to have no problem driving down Via Verde Avenue in their Prius to go eat Pizza with their Swedish girlfriend… the intellectual and spiritual disconnect is very difficult for me to get my head around.

Some statistics would probably not be amiss here. The 2010 census reports:

Americans 308,745,538 100.0 %
White 223,553,265 72.4 %
African American 38,929,319 12.6 %
Asian American 14,674,252 4.8 %
Native Americans or Alaska Native 2,932,248 0.9 %
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 540,013 0.2 %
Some other race 19,107,368 6.2 %
Two or more races 9,009,073 2.9 %

Of that total, 16.4% are of hispanic or latino ancestry. That’s close to two out of every 10. Moreover, have a look at the 15 largest ancestries of these oh-s0-proud Americans:

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It wouldn’t be surprising if the real names of some of these uneducated and small-spirited bloggers were Jorgensen, DeSalvo, O’Shaunessy, Kang, or Graumann. If they’re taking pride in being called Jones, they may well have forgotten their Welsh ancestry.

Kris Kristofferson has Swedish ancestry. The Governator is from Austria. Rocky Marciano was Italian. Bruce Willis was born in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. Walter Cronkite had Dutch ancestry. Robert Zemeckis had Lithuanian ancestors. Gene Simmons was born in Israel. My own grandparents came from Tuscany and Calabria. America the beautiful, the open, the welcoming, the free – it has always been and will always be a melting pot of cultures, races, languages and ideologies. We must never forget the words of Emma Lazarus:

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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!”

“The New Colossus,” 1883

As our nation grows in population and we deal with issues of unemployment and the social well-being of our citizens, the issue of immigration must of necessity be dealt with in a rational and humane way, giving priority to those who enter our country through legal and approved channels – but we must never become a nation where ugly and brutal nationalism is allowed to become a vehicle for the demonization of any race, creed or culture. Our national language is English, and those immigrants who have been most successful are the ones who have assimilated rapidly, learned the language and the culture of their adopted home, and mainstreamed themselves and their children. But remembering and honoring their cultural heritage is also a big part of who they are, and how they interact with and contribute to the nation.

If you’re going to insist on English only, you must by rights exclude yourself from ever eating at Acquerello in San Francisco (in fact, you must refer to it as Saint Francis, and no one will know what the hqiz you are talking about) or Piccolo Angolo in New York; you are prohibited from ever driving a Porsche or a Mercedes-Benz; you may never refer to a shiatsu massage or a reiki treatment; you can’t drink vodka; taboo is taboo; you can never again use ketchup; and heaven help you if you want to eat fondue.

For the love of whatever you hold sacred, fight racism, exclusionism, nationalism and xenophobia with every fiber of your being. Every American citizen in this country is entitled to the same respect and status – remember, in the end, – with the exception of Native Americans who were here long before the Mayflower – we all got here on a boat one way or another.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The unvarnished truth.

The most honest three and a half minutes of television, EVER… [NSFW for language]

Painful to watch, yet sublimely inspiring.

America is no longer the greatest country on earth. Some would argue that it never was, but that’s a pointless debate. The real point, the salient point, the point that is crying out to be heard is: we still could be. As a nation we have the resources, we have brilliant people who want to make a difference, and we have tenacity in the face of adversity.

The Old Wolf has spoken.