Standing in line to get on a ski lift, buy movie tickets, board an airplane, or dine out, I am always reminded of what my mother-in-law thinks of America. Upon each visit to the United States, a yearly sojourn she has made for over thirty years from France, she is still struck by our civility. We say “please”, “thank you”, and “can I help you”. Service is good and delivered with warmth. And for the most part we wait our turn. She admires the fact that entrepreneurism still exists here. And she is in awe of our national pride -- amazed that despite our diversity, there is still very much a sense of order and procedure that is quite American.
Over the years though, she has observed that new arrivals seem less enthusiastic about embracing the culture and history of their new home. There does not seem an urgency to learn English, understand our past, or appreciate our heritage. Despite her language skills, she is baffled that she might have to rely on her Spanish to make a purchase. What is more, she has noticed that like the French, we are in a phase of apologizing for our unique existence.
Her observations might explain our remarkable anger over immigration of late. There are few among us who does not know or consider a friend someone born in another country. We are aware and accept that those of foreign origins live and work right next to us. And yet there is a sense that immigrants are compromising our concept of Americanism and filling our jobs, far beyond farming, gardening, and cleaning.
The problem may start with us. I can recall when growing up, each school day started with a pledge of allegiance. There was a ritual of raising the American flag on the school campus each morning, and folding it each afternoon, coveted acts carried out by deserving students. We all wanted these honors. Do we continue to instill this sense of pride today?
Before we identity an enemy from without, US nationals need to take a moment for some self-examination and ask if we exude or encourage national pride. And this must apply particularly with how we raise our children and teach them how to treat others.
My son at 15 has very strong opinions about slavery, the electoral college, civil rights, and capitalism. Sensitive to his youth, I am careful to listen to his positions. With each discussion, and there is always a discussion, my husband and I do our best to provide historical context. Most importantly, we remind him of why America remains still a desirable place to live. Though we struggle through change, like any other western nation, the United States still accommodates and tolerates difference. We ask only that newcomers embrace the values of our country.