Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What is an American?

I've written on this before.  It's a subject that fascinates me, as I grew up in a working class neighborhood that, during my childhood, was apparently the destination of choice for many immigrants.

Some of the nationalities I've known in my younger days:

  • English - my best pal's father was a retired military man from England

  • Irish - both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland

  • Yugoslavian

  • Greek (one of my dad's best buddies was a Greek who became an American by volunteering for the Army)

  • Egyptian - my daughter's friend in high school was Coptic

  • Arabic - both Christians and Muslims - many friends of both groups

  • German

  • Brazilian

  • Romanian

  • Hungarian

  • Polish - my aunt married a Pole who was a Byzantine Catholic

  • Swedish

  • Estonian

  • Russian

  • Japanese

That list is just off the top of my head, and would probably be 2-3 times longer if I took more time to think about it.

The thing is, I lived surrounded by people who originally were from someplace else, and I spent enough time with them to get a feel for how their home language sounded, what they ate, how they interacted with each other and with Americans, what their political and religious beliefs were - it was a good introduction to Assimilation 101 as you could get.

Sarah Hoyt writes here about her experiences in America after leaving Portugal.

As a result, I do understand that fitting in is tough, that feeling like an outsider is emotionally draining, and that even a country like America, which does accept outsiders into the family, also harbors preconceptions about their "foreignness".

I've even had experiences with being the New Kid, as a result of marrying a man who likes to pick up and move to new places.  I initiated only one of those moves, to the South.  Surprisingly, I was able to assimilate more easily than he was.  Some of that was due to long practice with having to make new friends in a strange place.  Some of that was my ease with taking on a new culture.  Like some who find themselves in a new land, I am more than often charmed by the regional differences, and willing to adapt to them.  After all, the locals stayed in their original location, and are presumably happy with their home.

I was the traveler, who moved here.  I should adapt.  And, mostly, I have.

That's what I expect from immigrants - that they recognize that THEY were the ones who left home, and that THEY should make some personal changes to fit in.  Not give up everything, like the Fresh Off the Boat show, but make an effort to learn the language - enough to communicate with Americans.  We're not that fussy; we'll learn to handle your unique accent, your occasional mangled syntax.  Well, we might tease you a little, but we do that to many people (for example, Yankees and Southerners).  Our teasing implies that we consider you one of us, and it doesn't mean we don't like you.  Quite the opposite - we only tease family.

That's the important thing - America is one of the few places on Earth that will not only let you in, but, eventually, let you into the family.  You become an American.

Americans not liking immigrants?  Ridiculous!  I don't know anyone who doesn't tear up at the sight of each new batch of Americans reciting the oath that makes them Americans - it's like America's way of adopting new family members.

We do not, however, warm to lawless groups of border-jumpers.  Most of us are in favor of rounding them up and returning them to the country they came from.  And, as for those who do it more than once - I'd have no problem sending them to prison for 10 or more years, followed by deportation.  In fact, I'd like to explore a prison set up off-shore (there are a lot of islands in the Pacific who would love to have the money coming into their communities) specifically for 2nd-time offenders of immigration law.

What about their families in America, particularly those who have American-born children?

They can select from:

  • Voluntarily returning, taking their American children with them - suspended fines, to be imposed if they come back.  The child may return after achieving their majority.

  • Leaving their American children with an American family of their choice, to be raised by them in America.

  • Giving up custody of their American children, to be adopted by Americans.

That's it.  I'm not willing to bend the rules just because they managed to evade the law long enough to create an American child.

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