THE UNIVERSAL AMERICA : A COMMITMENT

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^ those who come t,o us seeking our national ideals and promise are as much American as anyone already here.

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The ideals that  created the American nation are not temporary or local but universal and lasting. If this were not so, people from all over the world would not come to us to be part of us, nor would their coming be a constant coming over decades, centuries, as they have been and are.

We are the Promised Land. There have been other such promised lands, the one written about in Exodus most famously but hardly only that. Throughout recorded history, people have sought better lives in newly founded places. It was common, for example, in the early Middle Ages, for peasants, merchants, and vagabonds of all kinds to leave lands of baronial oppression seeking new cities. Robert Hughes, i n his tome Barcelona, cites the 10th century constitution of Cardona, then a newly founded hill town 100 miles west of the big city, as it invites everyone who wants to come, to come and be part of the new city. And what made Cardona made 100s of similar settlements all over Europe. Thus the welcome offered by America had precedent. What was unique about us was not the welcome but the limitless vista. America would be a city on a hill, as John Winthrop described it in a s1630 speech — a new Cardona –but not for long only a city: an ent8ire continent beckoned, a newly discovered continent at that. The vista of America was endless, its welcome boundless.

It took courage to come here. Many arrived with nothing. Death by disease took many, wars with Indians killed more. Slavers brought millions of captives to the South to toil in chains. Others landed in Montreal and walked the 250 miles through wild beast forests to work for pittances in the Lowell textile mills. Millions arrived from southern and eastern Europe, or from Asia, to find themselves persecuted, legally or otherwise. After the Korean and Viet Nam wars , hundreds of thousands of refugees came. Other hundreds of thousands arrived from Europe after World War II. More recently, millions have arrived here from Central and South America, or from Haiti, or from Iraq. Yet always they come. Not to other nations so much, but to America. We should rejoice that they come to us and not to elsewhere.

Every immigrant community that has come to America has built it, enriched it, helped it prosper, and confirmed its ideals, which as we all now know are so eloquently expressed in Emma Lazarus’;s poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Yet there is more: almost all those who have immigrated here have done so because our foundational documents contain every human being’s basic rights: all people are created equal, all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and, inscribed in the preamble of the Constitution, a governmental covenan56t that “provides for the General Welfare.” Civil rights for all : is that so hard an ideal to grasp ? Yet its radicalism has made enemies of some, who because immigrants, like all of us, are not perfect, have decided that immigrants are a bad thing.

American ideals probably can never be fully achieved. People simply aren’t perfect enough to master their condition, situation, daily life, destiny. Yet to look at where we fall short of our ideals and proclaim that falling short proof t.hat our ideals are a bad joke, or a lie, or a bad thing, is to assure that failure will rule rather than striving to do better.

Myself, I prefer to commit to the striving. I commit to welcoming all immigrants who want to strive with us. Failure may happen, but it must never be final. America itself can never be final. The common saying that “America’s best days lie ahead” is how we declare our triumph over pessimism: a pessimism which America ideals  contradict and chide. Those who fear immigrants fear American ideals. Plain and simple.

— Mike Freedberg / Here andm Sphere

 

 

 

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