Tuesday, October 21, 2008

being american

Years ago when I lived in Connecticut an article appeared on the front page of The Hartford Courant with an accompanying photograph that I've never forgotten. The issue was immigration, and the article reported a protest staged by members of the area's large hispanic population. The photograph showed protesters in front of the state capitol holding a sign over their heads that read "Real Americans didn't come over on the Mayflower."

Oh, really? Perhaps it was a defensive response from my gene pool, which carries markers from passengers aboard that historic ship. Or perhaps it was my tepid disgust for the ignorant and uninformed mindset that crafted that phrase. Whatever jolted me then about the statement, it all comes back now as voices fill the airwaves with accusations of one kind or another about public people being un- or anti-American.

So I got to thinking. What does it mean to be "American?"

As I ponder my own response to that question I quickly discover that any answer is far more complex than the question, or should be! My initial reflection took me immediately to Norman Rockwell's The Four Freedoms. In those paintings he brings to life tangible depictions of the desires of all people to be able to speak freely, worship as they choose, not go hungry, and go to bed at night feeling safe from harm. (It is the latter painting, Freedom from Fear, that is my favorite. )

Rockwell's suggestions offer perhaps obvious reflections of what we say it means to be American, but more and more it sounds as though some people believe it applies to their own choices, and not the choices of others when differences emerge. The notion of difference appears to be very threatening to so many, and that is foundational to the problems we face as a society.

The false rumor spread about Obama being Muslim is a case in point. Colin Powell finally voiced what I have been saying for months. What if Obama were a Muslim (he's not, just in case anyone reading this isn't aware that he is a Christian)? Would that be a bad thing? Do people fear that a Muslim's beliefs might influence how he or she would shape policy? How is that different from how a Christian's views shape their own worldview? Or a Jew's, Hindu's or Budist's? (Remember, our government has branches with distinct responsibilities and powers that are designed to prevent autocracy from ruling our land.)

And let's talk for a moment about Jeremiah Wright, one of those being accused of being Anti-American. Are his views about being attacked on 9/11 any more radical than those of the Christian right who claim that the events of that day were God's judgment against America's sinfulness? Since when is being radical anti-American? Think for a moment about who fought the British in these colonies during the American Revolution, the movement for fair representation that led to the incredible freedoms citizens of this country now enjoy. The architects of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution created a government that protected and provided for Americans that at that time came from all over Europe, represented a variety of cultures, spoke multiple languages and practiced divergent forms of religion. I wonder what it meant to them to be part of this country in its foundling years? And what would they say now to the bickering and the maligning?

We each hold our own view about what we value about our country, and we express those views and values in various ways. We may not understand how another arrives at their view, but the first responsibility we have is to learn from each other and to clarify misunderstandings before we assert our right to speak out against our neighbor. Being "American" too often is about freedom, and not often enough about the responsiblities that come with those freedoms.

I feel I'm leaning a bit toward a ramble, so I'll wind this down with a simple invitation to think about this question, and, if you're willing, to share your thoughts. Anyone?



Jayne said...

It has been an interesting week to say the least. "Pro-American" to those who would seek to divide means being insular, clinging to fear, and using exclusivity. (Funny, but that's about as NON-Christian as you can get, isn't it?) It seems that those who are using those terms feel threatened by anything, or anyone, that is not conservative enough to pass their litmus test. It's really sad to see our political process sink to this level.

Amy Jo said...

i agree wholeheartedly. but in response to an older post, just go to the pound and get a dog. get a dog who might not be pretty, who might be scared, but who needs a home. you dont need to meet fancy requirements for the rescues, etc. just go to the county or city pound.


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