Happy Birthday America–July 4, 2012

America is spacious and beautiful. It is the birthplace of the idea that people do not need a king to rule over them.

America has enormous strengths of which often its own native-born residents are either unaware or which they take for granted. Among these strengths is the continual enrichment of the country by immigration from abroad. America is truly a world country, perhaps, along with Canada, being the prototype of a country built up in large part by immigration.

The waves of immigration starting with people from the British Isles have swelled to a rising tide that carries people to America from every part of the world. In large American cities such as New York and Los Angeles, it is doubtful whether any country, no matter how small, lacks representation among the city’s residents.

Specific calamities in foreign countries have launched large-scale immigration to America, such as the Irish fleeing famine and English tyranny in the 1840s, to Jews fleeing pogroms in late nineteenth century Russia as portrayed in the theatrical play and motion picture entitled Fiddler on the Roof.

In recent decades there has been concern and even resentment about massive illegal immigration from Mexico. However, many Americans know from first-hand observation that immigrants from Mexico, legal or not, are willing and able to work hard. Starting with relatively menial work, within the space of three generations Mexican immigrants produce a respectable share of business entrepreneurs and members of the various professions.

The problems of massive immigration from Mexico arise not so much from the Mexicans themselves as from the social welfare laws of the U.S. and the various states which impose on all other residents the expenses of providing educational and health care services to millions of poor Mexican immigrants.

Since its intellectual and moral inception in 1776, and even before, America has been a land of opportunity to which enterprising people all over the world aspire to immigrate. Across the broad space of America one can meet recent arrivals from virtually every other country on the planet. Below are just a few examples observed in a recent trip to the extreme northwest of America, in the Puget Sound area of the state of Washington.

The town of Sequim (pronounced “skwim”), Washington is located just twenty miles over the water from Victoria, British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Canada.  The town’s name Sequim, is a word in the language of the Native American tribe known as the Klallam. This small town (population 6,600) of mainly Caucasians also includes natives of Punjab state, India, mainland China, and Mexico who are in business operating good quality restaurants.

On the outskirts of Sequim there is a gambling casino operated by the Klallam tribe, whose ancestors have been in North America thousands of years. The casino has brought prosperity to the Klallam tribe whose people have used their business profits not only to construct attractive buildings on the casino property, but also to acquire and improve the local golf course.

A lady was offering some of her possessions at a typical “garage sale” in the driveway of her home outside the town of Sequim. A slight accent in her speech revealed her German origins. She was born in the eastern part of Germany in 1941, married a German man there and then realized a lifelong dream by immigrating to America as an adult.

On the highway from Sequim to the Seattle/Tacoma airport there was a Chevron gasoline station and convenience store operated by a husband and wife who are relatively recent immigrants from Korea. In the window of the convenience store were two signs. One said the business hours were 4:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. Another sign advertised “help wanted.”

Some years ago radio commentator Paul Harvey (1918-2009) told the story of a Korean couple who owned a small convenience story in New York City. The store was operated by the family and was open all hours of day and night. After many years, one day the store was closed for the first time. A sign in the window announced “We are closed as we have gone to attend our son’s graduation from Yale.”

At the Seattle/Tacoma airport three generations of a family of six were waiting to board an airplane bound for Los Angeles. The assimilation into America of this apparently Muslim family was evident in their attire. A grandmother wore a hijab, the headscarf worn traditionally by Muslim women. Her husband was dressed neatly in typical American garb. Their children and grandchildren in their attire and demeanor were indistinguishable from the other Americans at the airport. No hijab hid the well-coiffed hair of the daughter (or perhaps she was the daughter-in-law) of the older woman.

Similar evidence of assimilation of immigrants into American life can be seen all across the land. Vietnamese work as manicurists in Los Angeles and as farmers in Georgia. Natives of the sub-continent of India operate motels and a child of such a family may work as a cardiologist. Recent arrivals from African countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria work as nurses, nurses’ aides, and orderlies in hospitals from Los Angeles to New York and points in between.

The sky is the limit whether for those whose families have been in America for many generations or for new immigrants. A young American can aspire to be an airline pilot or physician and become one if he or she possesses native capability, motivation and self discipline.

The Reader’s Digest once published a statement by a woman from Greece who expressed her love for America as follows. She had lived in several other countries before coming to America. In each of them she felt as though she would be considered a foreigner always, no matter how long she lived there. Only in America did she feel welcomed and accepted almost from the start.

Perhaps the openness of America to immigrants from abroad was expressed most eloquently by Emma Lazarus, whose poem includes the famous passage inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor:

“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!”

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