America: That magnificent multicultural melting pot of freedom and opportunity.
Immigrants have been calling this place home ever since the first colonists dropped anchor and stepped off the boat. Since then, people from every corner of the world and every walk of life have followed suit, making that same journey for a chance at living the dream. Most have made difficult decisions, sacrifices that can only be justified by the the hope of a better life on the other side of that golden door.
They immigrate, transplant the family tree then till and toil until the roots can twist deep into the fertile American soil; establishing a future for every generation thereafter. They work, they struggle, they strive, they contribute. It isn’t easy, starting over — from the bottom. A new country, a new language, a very different culture and way of life.
They bring with them cherished, time-honored traditions and rich, vibrant customs. It’s hard to let those things go and why should they? It’s all they’ve known and may be all they have left. The customs of this new country are peculiar to them. They don’t quite understand them but they want to. They want to belong, to be included, so they merge their customs with ours, unite them, in order to honor the old way while taking part in the new.
Their language is fundamental, intrinsic. It’s been a familiar aspect of their identity since birth — the language their mothers spoke to them. They speak it without effort and find comfort in it. They get excited to meet someone who speaks their native tongue. It connects them. Validates them. For that moment, they’re not lost in translation. They’re understood.
They want the same things you and I do: opportunity, freedom, happiness. They’re our neighbors, not our enemies. They want to be accepted. They want to be Americans.
And why not? We are a nation fully comprised of immigrants. If you were born in America then you are the ancestor of an immigrant, unless you’re a Native American (but that’s an entirely different discussion). At some point in your ancestry, someone uprooted the family tree and brought it over here with the hopes of a new life for your family — for you.
There was a time when it used to be a matter of pride, a testament to our splendor and might, that people from all other countries wanted to come here and call America their home. We were the beacon in the dark, a refuge.
And then something changed…
We stopped being proud of our multiculturalism. Wars divided us, perverted our view and clouded our judgment. Our once open arms now tightly folded across our chest, we started to turn away the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We adopted an attitude of elitism and jingoism.
But this country belongs to the diverse people who call it home. ALL of us. OUR country. Founded by immigrants. Built by immigrants. Populated by immigrants. We are a collective of ideas, cultures, beliefs, traditions and ethnic groups. Some of us forget or maybe willfully ignore that fact and view immigration as a leprosy, not a legacy.
Our outlook on immigration and immigrants has been tainted by myth and half-baked opinion. It skews our perspective of diversity and creates a prejudice towards minority groups. We see a woman wearing a hijab and assume she’s a foreigner, or worse — an Islamic militant, even though she was born here, a citizen. We hear two men speaking Spanish and assume they’ve illegally immigrated and tell them to “speak English or go home”, even though this is their home — legitimately — and there isn’t even an “official” language of the United States. (Spanish is actually the second most commonly used language in this country.)
This prejudice was obvious on Super Bowl Sunday after Coca Cola aired a commercial called It’s Beautiful. It was a wide-angle montage of people, young and old, of various ethnic groups and lifestyles, doing everyday things; living their normal, happy American lives — and drinking Coke, of course. It was backed by a chorus of children singing America the Beautiful, with parts sung in seven different languages — languages that are well-represented in this country.
Here it is if you missed it:
Awe inspiring, isn’t it? And beautiful, just as the title promised.
But not everyone shared this sentiment. Rather than seeing it as a tribute to our diverse and beautiful country, they saw it as an insult to their patriotism. The Twitter world was abuzz with a slew of dispiriting tweets. A few examples:
Behind every illiberal tweet this commercial subsequently generated (and there were thousands), there’s a person who seems to be completely out of touch with their ancestry. A person who is thoroughly dispassionate about the plight of immigrant Americans and willfully ignorant of the true social demographic of our country. A person who has a very SMALL worldview.
What causes this kind of cognitive dissonance? How do we overcome it? CAN we overcome it?
I know it can be disheartening, but just keep this in mind: The fact that a commercial like this aired is a testament to our forward momentum. Progress is happening, folks. It was also the first Super Bowl commercial to feature a same sex couple. Sweet, delicious progress.
America is beautiful and gets more so every day. This isn’t a time to feel gloomy about humanity or embarrassed by your fellow, albeit misguided, Americans. This is a time to recognize the progress and celebrate it. Embrace it. Help it along.
The next time you see an immigrant struggling with the oddities and challenges of this crazy American life, give them a hand. Let them know we’re not all unwelcoming elitist xenophobes. Show them you care. Show them you understand. Show them that you accept them into this amazing, inimitable country with open arms.
In other words, keep being the kind and compassionate human that you are and progress will continue to follow.