E Pluribus Unum


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“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus

I didn’t grow up a very patriotic child. I was confused by the contradictions in my life.  At Catholic school, we obediently pledged allegiance and sang in our sing-song voices of the “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride”.  Then, at home, I watched my much older siblings being swept up in the hippie movement with its slant against blind patriotism. They sang, “This land is your land.” My reaction was to take a more passive role, choosing neutrality over activism. In truth, I was caught between two worlds. I wanted to be the “good” child: school was where I thrived, after all. But I looked up to my brother and sister, and longed to join their causes.

If there was anything I believed about my country as I was growing up, however, it was the above quote and its passionate sentiment. One of the most important and special aspects of my country was its welcoming arms to immigrants. This I saw with my own eyes. This I could understand, because it resonated in my own family and the families of my friends. My mother’s family was from the Ukraine. My paternal grandmother still spoke the German of her parents, and my surname, given by my paternal grandfather, hailing from Ireland, was Kane.  My little working class neighborhood in Jersey City was home to my friends Susan Calabrese (Italian) and Paul Zukowsky (Polish). I had classmates who were African American and Puerto Rican. Lady Liberty stood proudly not far from where we lived and learned. So when they taught us that America was a melting pot, I understood this in my bones and in my blood. It made me happy, and yes, proud to be an American. E Pluribus Unum, it said on my coins: “Out of Many, One.”

Eventually, we realized that we should NOT promote the concept of the melting pot. The word “melting” implied a degree of assimilation that caused people to discard their ethnic traditions in favor of a blander American culture. Sadly, my husband Charlie’s grandfather gave up his Italian newspaper after little Charlie innocently asked him, “Can’t you read English, Grandpa?”  The reason was simple: first generation Americans fervently wanted to blend in, and rejected their old ways in their eagerness to become American. Only later, with hindsight, did we realize that this was not necessary. Or no longer necessary, because our society had reached a point at which cultural differences were not a threat, but a rich part of a beautiful tapestry being woven by the people.

So: out of many, not one, bland culture, but, indeed, one country. A country with a wealth of diversity and traditions, a multi-colored collage of individuals sharing the rights and freedoms our constitution bestows. Intoxicating stuff, really.

Not being a Pollyanna, I realize that problems have long persisted and prejudice and xenophobia remain insidious toxins. In spite of that, we have as a country been evolving in the right direction overall. Consider the fact that we just had a black president for eight years!

Until now. While I deeply believed that our open door to the “huddled masses” was a powerful part of our country’s identity that would never be rejected, it now appears that I was wrong.

Just days after the first Syrian refugees arrived here in Rutland, Vermont (a little family of four who came here for a better life for their small children), the entire refugee program is threatened to be discontinued due to Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration policies: treating all people of Muslim descent like criminals, and building walls between borders. This is not the America that made me proud. Are we becoming a place that people will flee from, rather than flee to?

Unfortunately, “reasoning” with the POTUS will get us nowhere. He is not a reasonable man. That is why last Saturday I joined the millions of protestors around the world to raise my voice against Trump. It was this formerly neutral child’s first protest march, and it was a powerful inspiration to stand next to my daughter and son among so many beautiful voices and spirits.

Tomorrow, I will join a group of protestors in Rutland, Vermont, to stand up and fight for the Syrian refugee program.

We cannot watch in helpless outrage as the very fabric of our country is unraveled.©

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Boston Commons January 21, 2017

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A Dark Day

“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.” Hitler

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A new day always dawns, even when your heart is heavy. And so the relentless march of time has carried us to this day, a day when a great deal will be lost. We are losing a president who, with his family, occupied the office with quiet dignity. He will be replaced by a man who belittles others, disregards longstanding ethical standards, ignores the law, and promotes values that are contrary to the very fabric of our constitution. A man whose primary motivation appears to be self-aggrandizement at any cost.

This is what we’ve come to; this is where we are.

What troubles me most is that so many people do not recognize the danger here. It goes even further. DT’s supporters have chosen to turn a blind eye to his OUTRAGEOUS behaviors: His lies, followed by denial of the lies even when faced with concrete proof. His flagrant treatment of women as sex objects. His derogatory comments toward minorities and the disabled. His refusal to follow the most basic guidelines of courtesy and civility. His tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

In a society that has over recent years had its consciousness raised about bullying, we have elected ourselves a bully.

What does it look like to have a bully run a country? You don’t have to look far into the past to see a similar progression of events in neighboring Europe. Like DT, Adolf Hitler was voted into power at a time when the citizens of his country were disillusioned by the status quo. They were living with economic hardship and their hopes were diminished. They were ready to embrace someone who made grand promises, and to ignore the hollowness behind those promises. They were ready (and willing) to find someone to blame for their predicament, and to direct their anger there. And that anger grew into hatred, and that hatred became a murderous rage. Such a rage that 6 million were demeaned, abused beyond belief, and ultimately killed.
Don’t be mistaken! This was possible because the masses believed in a man who, like DT, convinced them that he would use the power with which they endowed him to improve their lives. A man, who like DT, had no regard for the truth, and equal disregard for humanitarian values. And whose popularity thrived despite those facts.

This frightens me, and what frightens me even more is the fact that so many people are not frightened of the damage this man can do.

I know that fear was, in fact, a significant element in this election. Fear of the changes that have taken place in our lifetime, that culminated in having a black president, gay marriage, and an overall diminishment of white privilege. Funny, the very changes that brought me the most joy in recent years are the things that our electorate masses fear. We truly live in a country divided.

After the election, it was very tempting to run away for good. We have a community of friends on Isla Mujeres. We are fortunate enough to have the means to make that happen. But in a big way, this would feel like jumping ship. I don’t want to be like a rat. Our children have to live with this, and it would feel like turning my back on them.

One of the most jarring realizations the election brought me was that the misogyny in our country is even more entrenched than the racism. If ten years ago you had asked me to predict what we would have first, a black president or a woman president, I would have guessed wrong. As a white woman, I resided in that cloud of privilege as well, though I hate to admit it.

I have had to rethink some assumptions. Watching how Hillary was demonized was sobering, and seeing DT’s behavior toward women normalized is sickening. I refuse to normalize what is happening before my eyes. Tomorrow I will attend the Women’s March in Boston with my gay son and my lesbian daughter. This is a small thing I can do. Writing this is another.

And – who knows? – maybe we will live on Isla for just part of the year, to bolster morale for the fight.©