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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

New Americans Museum

What better place for a museum called the New Americans Museum than San Diego? And what better time to ponder what makes us American than now?

My mother on our recent trip to San Diego - mural at old Training Station Barracks, now Liberty Station

For those not familiar with the story, my mother was a Canadian who married an American sailor and eventually ended up in San Diego in the 1970's.  She was naturalized during that time, so she is an American citizen.  How American does she feel though?  I've honestly never asked her even though it is something I've thought about myself on my own journey.

I'm a child of an immigrant, and was myself born in Canada on an American Naval base.  The honest truth is since I am white, speak English, and was born in Canada I have always been able to say that to anyone without fear of repercussion.  Since I married a Canadian my children are the children of immigrants and have always done the same.  Naturally our hearts are broken as we consider the current state of immigration in the United States.  One of the old barracks at Liberty Station was home to the New Americans Museum, where two photography exhibits moved me deeply and I had to brush away tears.  The questions posed by the young adults photographed in the first series were familiar ones that I have myself pondered over the years.

When I was a child I "felt" more Canadian, out of place in an American culture at times. As the years have gone on my experiences have changed me and in recent years I have felt out of place when I visit Newfoundland - just another impatient American out of place in a culture that still values a quieter life.

But of course I am both, influenced by one as I live another.  And "being American" is a state that is never stagnant but always changing.  It depends on who you ask, where they live, what they believe.  I always thought certain things though were undeniable about being I'm not so sure.

We could start with the American ideals, first with the idea of Democracy which is a government where representatives are elected by the people to represent them.  Or as Lincoln said, "Of the people, by the people, for the people."  Attention has been brought to the fact that voter turnout is low in the United States, especially in non-presidential election years, but did anyone know that out of 32 developed nations we placed 26th?  The usual suspects such as Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Canada and the UK of course have us beat, but it surprised me to learn that so do South Korea, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia and Mexico!  Concerned with whether or not our elected officials are truly representing us or care what we think?  Vote!

The other exhibit at the museum dealt with refugees, which brings me to another ideal: Rights.

Immigrants, even illegal immigrants, are granted the same basic rights under our Constitution. Many parts of the U.S. Constitution use the term "people" or "person" and not the word "citizen", and therefore those laws apply to anyone physically on U.S. soil.  Otherwise we could act unlawfully to anyone visiting, give that a thought!   Justice Antonin Scalia wrote “it is well established that the Fifth Amendment entitles aliens to due process of law in deportation proceedings.”  The link I show above informed me that even though Wayne is not a U.S. citizen, he may even be entitled to vote, just not in federal elections!  I'll have to ask him whether he wants to look into that.  Rules vary by state and municipality.

Those seeking asylum must be granted a hearing by law.  While the U.S. does allow in a large number of refugees, it currently receives fewer than other countries per capita.  We are a larger, more populated country, therefore it follows that we would receive more individuals.  As of 2014 we were ranked 28 out of 43 countries, I'm sure we are ranked lower than that during these times.

Other founding ideals are Liberty, Opportunity and Equality.  I think of how I have the freedom and opportunities to go where I want, be who I want and have the life that I want and my heart aches for those who just want to go live where they might possibly not have to fear for their lives every minute of every day.  This freedom from fear, these expectations that overall I have control of my life and its direction are something that I used to take for granted.

Luckily for me, my family comes from a country who shares these ideals.  Many are not so lucky.  Think of them today and their struggles to find peace, think of how they are being treated when they get to the United States - once the ideal country for freedom, equality and justice.

Here's a link to a list of 9 children of immigrants who have had profound impact on our country.  Where would our country be without immigrants?  Not only are we turning away refugees, but now even people who lawfully obtained permission to be here probably won't be coming if they are from  certain countries due to the Supreme Court upholding the revised travel ban on the principal that the President of the United States has certain leeway when it comes to immigration law. 

1 comment:

  1. Well thought out . Well said. The Americans have to up their game. Walk the talk.