You have to love this picture. I snapped it at Ellis Island last year and have it tacked on the bulletin board in my office as a reminder that we all came from somewhere else. This great country is relatively new compared to many (say France or England), and we have variety unparalleled in the rest of the world. When I first saw this picture, I searched all of the faces hoping to find ME. Who are my people? What is my heritage?
My recent trip to New York City reminded me once again of just what a WASP I am. That’s fine when I’m living in my little neck of the woods in South Carolina, but when I venture out just a bit, I see that I could easily become a minority. Truly, I heard more people speaking French, Spanish, Chinese, and German than English while in New York, and yet I hear people all around me frequently saying that they wish “foreigners” would go back where they belong (where that might be I’m not sure).
Don’t these intolerant folks realize that their ancestors came from elsewhere else and that they were once foreigners?? What about you? Did your ancestors come over on the Mayflower? And hey, even if they did, they weren’t the first ones in North America. Weren’t there some Indians (er, Native Americans) already here? Aren’t you glad they didn’t send your “people” back across the big water? I am.
And I’m also glad that so many other nationalities have joined to make this great land even greater…and it’s not just because of tacos and spaghetti either. It’s because of everything related to culture, including art, music, traditions, skills, religions, languages, and so forth. When at Ellis Island last May, I saw a short play featuring the experience of Bela Legosi upon his arrival in America. Then there are Arnold Schwarzneggaer, Levi Strauss, Peter Jennings, Deepak Chopra, and Mariah Carey…all immigrants who enriched our society.
My husband must have commented a dozen times or more about how many different shapes, sizes, noses, skin color, and languages we encountered. It was mind boggling to see and hear the tremendous diversity and to realize once again that this is OUR land, not just YOURS and MINE.
As I walked away from the above picture and looked back, this is what I saw, the flip side of the same image(s). And just so you know, the little boy walking in front of the faces appeared to be from India. He belongs here just as much as you and I do.
One thought on “Our Country”
I agree with you — this is a great land, and we are a compendium of many peoples and cultures. The key thing, the difficult thing, is that we have to make a choice — to embrace our new land and continue to make it great, or to pine for what we left behind.
My maternal ancestors came from Poland, and within one generation, they were speaking English to the point that they forgot their Polish. Sad, perhaps, but they completely and fully embraced this land and the opportunities it offered.
My husband’s paternal ancestors came from Norway, and, again, within one generation they had forgotten their Norwegian as they worked hard to master the English language.
When we lived overseas, we struggled to speak in the language of the country (in this case, Spanish), because the inhabitants considered it extremely rude to speak another language in front of them. I would appreciate that same consideration being granted to us, especially when the people speaking are second or third generation from the original immigrants.
I finally realized now long ago that someone who lives in America but who doesn't speak English is really hurting himself/herself. Sure, there are directional signs, etc. in other languages, but when it comes to progressing and moving forward, a person just has to learn the primary language. For instance, if you want to get a college degree, then you just speak English. If you want to become a CEO, same thing.