A long, long time ago, when I was in High School, I was adamant that I was moving to Europe, or South America, or somewhere other than the United States. I was angry. We were fighting with Iraq (over oil), and we still weren’t acknowledging how terrible we were to Africans and Native Americans when we first took over this land. I didn’t want to be associated with such a country any more.
In my senior year, I’d made exciting plans to travel to Cancun for Spring break and thought that this might be my big first step towards living in another country. It had beaches, people were happy, and I assumed everyone liked one another. While I had a good deal of fun in Cancun, even my 18 year old self could tell that Cancun life was unsustainable and likely pretty unfulfilling. College started to look like a pretty good back up plan to leaving the United States. At least I’d be leaving my parents’ house!
During college I juggled majors, Engineering, Biology, English, Economics, unsure of what I wanted to be or who I was going to become. It wasn’t until I took a class in the History of Black Economics where we learned about the civil rights movement that I realized I wanted to fight for people’s human rights. Off to law school I would go.
Law school wasn’t what I imagined. Most subjects were unappealing to me, Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Evidence. I went through the motions and did alright, but I only really felt alive during my Con Law class and the Eugene Gressman appellate advocacy competition. In preparation for appellate arguments, everyone had to write an extensive appellate brief and was randomly assigned a position on a case involving the legality of affirmative action. I can’t say that I was definitively pro-affirmative action, it’s a complex matter, but I leaned decidedly in favor of doing whatever was necessary to make people whole for past wrongs, and affirmative action was designed to do just that. While I was slightly terrified of having to stand before someone to make my argument, I was fueled by the fact that I was standing up for something I believed in. I had something worth fighting for.
Because this isn’t a legal blog, I know, you were beginning to wonder, I will quickly share with you the gist of my brief. In my legal and social research around the subject, I’d come to the conclusion that diversity is a compelling enough reason to support a program that utilizes race as a factor, something otherwise illegal, rightfully so, under the Constitution. At the time, universities, corporations and government agencies were beginning to recognize the benefit of diversifying their composition. By bringing together a diverse group of minds and perspectives, they’d learned that they could greatly expand their knowledge base, solve problems differently, and better serve a larger population. Bottom line, statistically speaking you are going to end up with an overall better outcome in the long run when you apply principles of diversity. For anyone who’s ever read anything about investing money, you’ve heard the advice “diversify your portfolio.” Diversifying wasn’t a new concept, it was just new to how we valued one another.
I don’t remember the grade I received on my brief or my argument, but I remember what it felt like to be imagining a world where everyone’s diverse backgrounds, skin colors, religions, sexual orientations, and political positions were celebrated for what they were, a person’s right to be independent, to be fully who they are and who they want to be and to be included as a vital part of what we celebrate as the United States of America.
As I look at our world today, with the media and politicians working hard to keep us separated, using our independence against one another to keep us in categories for their own gain, I am committing to honoring your independence. I am reclaiming July 4th, Independence Day, as a day to celebrate your individuality, your uniqueness, your right to be your beautiful authentic self. I’ll be celebrating all of the battles we’ve won and will continue to win when fighting for the rights of others, and I’ll renew my passion to always stand up for what it means to be an equal member of the world’s largest melting pot. I cannot undo the deeds of the past, but I can play a role in creating an America I believe in. One where we can all be proud to call home.
One thought on “Paying Homage to America, the Melting Pot”
This is beautiful.
Weirdly, I am transported back decades to an iconic moment. All the other GIs in the barracks are sleeping. We are completing “advanced leadership training,” which is Army code for Vietnam bound.
I have my back to the door jamb in the entrance to the latrine, the only room that has a light. I am reading “The Two Vietnams,” by Bernard Fall, a Columbia professor who later died there, getting caught in crossfire.
At that juncture all the fears had been dealt with: not going; going; not coming back. Still on the eve of finishing, getting a short leave, then deploying, I was asking myself the sacred question: “Why the fuck am I doing this?”
Flipping through Fall’s book, one (now way back then) read of the atrocities of the VietMin, later Biet Cong, beheading village leaders and sucking democracy from the good people of South Vietnam. That was in 1967. While the estates of society – government, media, church and commerce were still strong – though being challenged by citizens – I was not culturally independent enough to question the purpose of the U.S. Involvement or the hypocrisy of the establishment. ( That came about when I was in-country.)
What I did see that night, in a funny way, echoes your theme. I sensed this Vietnam gambit was flawed. But also in a very visceral way was placed in touch with the promise of the United States– not what we as a society were, but it’s potential with regard to individuals and to how the nation could be a force for freedom, human rights, justice.
The notion that it was not the current “what” of the United States, but the future potential and promise that the
country — but rather as a we, each of us — could achieve. All being equal. One people. Freedom … later amplified by FDR as freedom of speech, from want, of worship, from fear. All of that and more as I recalled my dad, his brother, our neighbors, friends, and business people had endured the Batan Death March, Getmany POW, surviving the sinking of the carrier with fellow sailors bobbing up in the Pacific, flying B-17 bombing runs in Europe …
All of that and more came into my thoughts, sitting in that doorway to the lateine in Fort Gordon, Ga. By the time the drill seargant came by to ask what I was doing, I could close the conver and move on to bed. Several weeks later I was on a Flying Tigers jet heading to Than Son Naut Airbase.
But that flash that night -that our national essence is not what we are or were, but rather it is the promise or ideal of what we stand for – never left me. Never. Freedom, being a melting pot, welcoming diversity — all of that is part of my realization. Statements like “one from many,” take on meaning.
This United States has an ideal at its root. I am so happy to see you call this out in your essay. Thank you! All good wishes this July 4th!