When America is at its best, we’re a nation of immigrants who haven‘t forgotten we were once strangers in the land, too.
We know we come from humble beginnings while doing our best to forget it. Before long, we get to the point where we see ourselves as people who have never been hyphenated by contact with any other sovereign land.
The tales of how we got to this country vary, of course. The first inhabitants of this hemisphere took advantage of the last Ice Age to migrate from Asia and parts unknown over temporary land bridges. Historians debate whether the descendants of those first Americans chased off small colonies of Norsemen who tried to establish colonies on North America before the Christian calendar entered double digits.
Because America has forgotten more about its pre-European history than it has ever known, we don’t know if there‘s anything to the rumors of Chinese spice traders being in the Americas in the 1300s. It sounds crazy, but we are an exceptional nation, according to all the propaganda, with an exceptional history even if we don’t exactly remember it.
For most Americans, history truly began 500 years ago with Spanish and Portuguese explorers whose names we all learned in elementary school. These European seekers of gold and bearers of smallpox were followed by the religious dissidents of the Mayflower era and millions of involuntary African immigrants on slave ships.
The European conquest of once great kingdoms in Central and South America, as well as the wars that would break out against the Native American tribes of the mid-Atlantic territories before spilling west, is the stuff of America’s mythic DNA in a nutshell. Our history is one of immigration and conflict, followed by wary coexistence and cross-pollination between once-mortal foes. There has always been a lot of sleeping with the enemy in the Americas.
Throughout our history,“godly men” in search of more land and markets have stepped forward, ready, willing and eager to impose their version of Manifest Destiny on everyone else. They carried bibles in one hand and guns in the other, because that‘s how the balance of power is exercised in a “civilized” society.
It helps that the line between people and territories is always blurred when there’s thievery going on. It makes the denial many generations later that much more reasonable. Most Americans don‘t realize that Texas, Arizona, Nevada and California were once part of a greater Mexico, before those lands were annexed by war, trickery and genocide.
Still, you can see hints of this forgotten knowledge and all the resentment it engenders in the angry faces of those protesting the caravans of refugee children from Central America. Recently, angry crowds managed to turn back buses trying to access processing centers in American border towns. Flags were waved and patriotic songs were sung in the “heroic” struggle against unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
“I think that people need to put their partisan politics aside,” objected Dallas Judge Clay Jenkins, who has an ambitious plan to house 2,000 refugee children in Texas that has not been received well by the protesters on the border. “If you want to listen to a leader, go ask your faith leader what you should do in a situation where children are alone and feel abandoned and terrified in overcrowded conditions.
”What does your Bible tell you?“ Judge Jenkins continued. ”What do the words on the Statue of Liberty tell you? What do your American values tell you? If we stop looking at these children as ’Others‘ and invaders and aliens and we look at them as children and human beings, then we’ll know how to handle this humanitarian crisis.“
Glenn Beck, arguably the media‘s greatest Tea Party champion, announced that he is going to McAllen, Texas, next week with a trailer loaded with soccer balls and teddy bears to give to the refugee children. As a result, he has received death threats from former brethren in the movement who are livid over his display of humanity.
Why all this fear and loathing for human beings who are our cousins spread over two continents? Why are we so willing to forget the history, blood and tragedy that ultimately binds us together in one hemisphere, indivisible?
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG