We are not a "nation of immigrants." This is both a factual error and a warm-and-fuzzy non sequitur. Eighty-five percent of the residents currently in the United States were born here. Sure, we are almost all descendants of immigrants. But we are not a "nation of immigrants."
(Isn’t it funny, by the way, how the politically correct multiculturalists who claim we are a “nation of immigrants” are sooo insensitive toward Native American Indians, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and descendants of black slaves who did not “immigrate” here in any common sense of the word?)
Even if we were a “nation of immigrants,” it does not explain why we should be against sensible immigration control.
And if the open borders advocates would actually read American history instead of revising it, they would see that the founding fathers were emphatically insistent on protecting the country against indiscriminate mass immigration.
While I agree that "sensible immigration control" is definitely needed--particularly in these days of fanatic Islamic jihadist threats (in fact, I would go so far as to put a moratorium on all immigration to this country for a period of time--say 1-2 years) while we continue to sort out the danger and develop countermeasures); nevertheless, I must respectfully disagree about the "not a nation of immigrants" position.
My disagreement has two aspects. The first is my own family history. All four of my grandparents individually came to America from Italy in the early part of the 20th century. Their stories and their passionate desires to become part of the American dream have inspired me for most of my life; and are part of my own cultural heritage which I deeply value and have tried to pass on to my own daughter who was born after all of them had passed away.
Back in my college days I became very aware that many of the people who most appreciated my country were not my fellow Americans, but were immigrants from various countries. They all had the perspective of having lived elsewhere and understanding what was special about America. Often, their feeling rekindled the fierce pride I felt in my Grandfather, who volunteered--barely able to even speak English yet-- for the US Army in World War I. He told me once when I was a very young child how "blessed" I was to grow up in a country where "freedom is in the very air you breathe".
Or the love and gratitude, I feel for my mother's mother, who took me out to lunch one day and encouraged me to become a doctor--and not to listen to my mother, who felt it was not appropriate that a woman go into a "masculine" career. "I came to this country because there was no future for women where I grew up. But you are an American and you are free to grow up and be whatever your abilities permit."
Did I mention that my Grandmother at age 15 stowed away on a boat to America and entered New York without a penny to her name, ultimately starting her own sewing business, before she met my Grandfather?
My immigrant Grandparents always understood what this country was fundamentally about.
In short, while I was lucky enough to be born an American, I am proudly descended from some incredible people who chose to be American. And I salute them and thank them from the bottom of my heart. In fact, I believe the real strength of this country comes from people who consciously and deliberately choose the liberty that America offers--whether they are born between the shining seas of this wonderful land or they make their way here by other means.
The second aspect of my disagreement with Michelle is best found in the famous poem by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty:
The New Colossus
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!"
This poem lyrically communicates one of the oldest and most deeply-felt American values. Most Americans, although not immigrants themselves, have ancestors that came to this shore seeking freedom from oppression, and a new chance at life. America has always opened her arms and welcomed them. And we are a strong and vibrant country because of it.
The recent introduction into the politically correct lexicon of "multicultural" is, I feel, a perversion of the message on the Statue. There is, of course, nothing intrinsically negative to valuing and treasuring, and even maintaining one's cultural heritage--as I and my family still do. But the implication of the multicultural gurus is that every culture; every tradition is morally, politically, economically, socially, aesthetically, and in every other way equivalent to American culture.
I do not think that perspective stands up to reality. The implication of the "diversity" divas is that diverse cultures are the strength and beauty our "national quilt".
Well, yes each diverse component does contribute. But it is the overall quilt itself that is the desired result. It is the quilt's entire design that determines its beauty, meaning, and utility. A quilt is a fabric design made by cutting shapes from one or more fabrics and sewing them on top of another piece of fabric. In America we have made a "crazy quilt" comprised of the members of every national, ethnic, religious and racial group on the planet. The "batting" and "bindings" of the quilt are what pull the individual blocks together into its overall pattern. No one block determines the overall pattern and each block is subsumed into the pattern.
I have no problem with natives of say, Turkey, or Haiti, or China saying that their cultural beliefs are better than America's. That is their perogative--I don't agree with them--but they are entitled to their opinion. But if one's own culture is so excellent--why come to the U.S. to live? If a person is not open to America's culture and accepting its values and goals, why come here?
The immigrant--by virtue of the of the very fact of their immigration-- is acknowledging the superior qualities of the country he or she immigrates to--or why immigrate? Becoming a citizen of this country presupposes that you accept those values and are no longer a Turk, Haitian, or Chinese--but are now an American.
Having commented on the value of immigration for both the immigrant yearning to breathe free; and for America itself, which is stonger because of the "melting pot" or "quilt" that brings together the strengths of many culures; how should America's borders be controled so that they "provide for the common defense"; while at the same time are able to take in the world's "tired, your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?
I don't pretend to have all the answers to that difficult question. But I do believe that we are a nation whose strength derives from all the people who choose America -- even if they are fortunate enought to have been born here.
The global war on terror presents those of us who support immigration and want to keep America's shores always open for those in the world yearning to breathe free, with enormous challenges. How do we wage this war for the very existence of our country and its values, without losing the liberty that makes our country worth fighting for to begin with?
That is a question worthy of debate and discussion and not just slogans, marches and platitudes issuing forth from both sides. On that, I am sure Michelle and I would agree completely.
One final word. I tend to think that Glenn Reynolds is absolutely correct, however, that the recent marches in favor of illegal immigration will only have the result of stricter laws being passed.
I wish that both sides would simply stand-down for a time and permit a reasoned debate and the development of sensible, and not draconian, solutions. Because, for me at least, this issue stands at the very center of what America is all about.