I worked very hard on a blog for today that I have decided to save for another time. I think it’s time that someone try to speak out with a level head and calm voice and put some perspective into all that is going on in our country today. I am so tired of the shouting, the threats, the divisiveness. We are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are Americans. Aren’t we?
In 1634, my mother’s family landed on St. Clement’s Island, off the shores of what is today St. Mary’s County, Maryland. They, and their fellow refugees, sailed aboard the Ark and the Dove, having left England four months earlier in search of a new land where they were promised religious freedom. When they arrived, the first thing they did was celebrate Mass in thanksgiving for their safe arrival.
I can’t begin to imagine how they must have felt. Undoubtedly, every emotion ran through them on that four month journey that must have felt like a lifetime. They dealt with stormy seas, sickness, and death. I envision nights of pitch blackness and days of unrelenting sun while mothers and children huddled in fear with little to eat, scarce medicine, and squalid living quarters. But I also envision hope, the celebrating of Mass below decks, the promise of freedom, the songs of a group of people on their way to a new life.
This vision brings to mind my friend, Antonio, who left Mexico at the age of thirteen to find a better way of life in America, worked hard, and eventually managed to bring his brothers here so that they, too, could prosper in the land of the American Dream. I think of my friend, Meredith, whose husband came here from Iran, joined the US Army, fought for our country, and became a US citizen amid growing animosity toward people from the Middle East. I think of my cousin, Ivan, who left the mountains of Guatemala to live in the land of freedom and opportunity. How are these people any different from my ancestors who crossed the ocean almost 400 years ago? How are their hopes and dreams any different? Why do their lives, and the lives of others like them, matter less?
Not long after my mother’s family arrived in the Colonies, my father’s family came here from Scotland and Ireland and also settled in St. Mary’s County. For many years, the Irish and Scottish were unwelcome intruders in this land. They were treated as second class citizens relegated to working as servants for the “already established Americans.” The working class Americans resented the Irish, who were seen as people who would work for a dime and were taking jobs away from Americans. It took many years for these “newcomers” to be accepted into American life and politics. It was a Boston Kennedy, grandfather to JFK, among a handful of others, who finally broke the stereotype and became a trusted citizen and politician. How hard it must have been for my family and the other Irish families along the Eastern seaboard to face resentment and scorn, to be treated as less than human, to be degraded and relegated to a lesser class.
I have many friends who have come here from foreign lands — Mirta’s parents and our friend, Millie, from Cuba; Michelle’s family from Mexico; Libby’s family and Bianca’s grandparents from Italy; Jenny and Joonkie from Korea. They all came here for one reason – to find and live out the American Dream. Does that make them any less American or less welcome here than my family just because my ancestors came here so long ago? Is my family less American or less welcome than the Native Americans who were here before us?
Over the past 400 years, my family has grown to include Native Americans, Polish Americans, Ukrainian Americans, German Americans, and Latino Americans. My husband and I have decided to see what other Nationalities are hiding within our DNA and are anxious to receive the results. I strongly believe that every American needs to investigate where they came from and what secrets their DNA holds. We might all find that we are all more, and less, American than we thought.
So what to do about the current situation in America? The bottom line is that we all want what’s best for our country, but getting there isn’t easy. It never has been. Even the fathers of our country were all over the place when it came to the issues facing them at the time. Ironically, they are almost identical to the issues we face today. They worried about being inclusive but not losing our American identity. They wanted to welcome those people looking for freedom but not endanger national security. They knew that their decisions would matter for years, decades, hopefully centuries to come.
Hailed by many today as a liberal icon, Alexander Hamilton believed, “the United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others, it has served very much to divide the community and to distract our councils. It has been often likely to compromise the interests of our own country in favor of another.”
George Washington contended, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…”
I suspect that both of these arguments sound familiar to anyone listening to political debate today. And there’s more:
“The United States should be an asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.” -Thomas Paine
Immigrants “will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty.” -Thomas Jefferson
I could go on and on.
My point is that the Founding Fathers disagreed on these and many other issues, but they did one thing that Americans seem unwilling to do today. They talked. They debated. They listened. They reasoned. And they worked together to come up with the documents that are the cornerstone of our nation. So, I propose that in this time of widespread disagreement, let’s put away our propensity to argue about who is right or wrong. Erase the lines drawn down the middle between liberals and conservatives, women and men, parents and children, whites and blacks, Muslims and Christians, and everyone else who represents US and THEM. Let’s show the world what it truly means to be Americans. We should demand that our elected officials see to it that America continues in the spirit in which it was founded, the spirit of the American Dream, welcoming and encompassing all. We need to demand that the government find a way to work together to help our country as well as the world. It’s what America has always done. How can she stop now?
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines, is a 2017 Illumination Award winner; and her most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.