Do you love America?
I do, unabashedly. Always have, always will.
I can say that because I do not confuse America, which are aspirations and ideals, with the government, which can be less than lovable. And not just the current one.
Governments are temporary. American ideals are eternal.
As a nation, we have not always lived up to our ideals, starting with slavery, the original sin that was brought to North America by Europeans in 1609.
The American clock began ticking in 1776, when we declared nationhood. From that moment, we owned slavery, and it took us 90 years to get rid of it, at great cost.
Along our pathway, the rich, the white, the male, the Christians often had the upper hand,which was true almost everywhere in the First World. In recent decades, the free-white-capitalist-democratic world has been making efforts to level the playing field so that nonwhite-nonmale-nonChristian people have a better chance for success. No one should object to this, but some do — mostly white Christian males.
One group, by and large, that doesn’t accept the baggage of guilt is immigrants who believe in the American Dream.
It’s what brought my grandparents here, and likely yours. How I revere them. Because of their brave journey, I was born an American and an heir to the American Dream.
And you know what? It exists today. The truest believers in the American Dream are immigrants, and that brings me to today’s subject, a one-hour documentary titled, “Citizen U.S.A.: A 50-State Road Trip” from Alexandra Pelosi, who, yes, is one of Nancy’s daughters.
When her husband, Dutch journalist Michael Vos, became a U.S. citizen, she was inspired to do a documentary on naturalization for HBO.
I can see the attraction, because for a decade I attended a naturalization ceremony once a year, and interviewed a brand new American. Over the years my group included Europeans, Africans, Asians, Arabs, young and old, male and female.
I found it inspiring and refreshing to see people from Azerbaijan to Zambia, right hands raised, taking an oath of allegiance to their new home. Most had been living here for at least five years, among us, seeing the divisions, the racism, the classism and the inequality — and yet wanting to join us, become us.
Why? Because it is better than what they had, which is something America’s natural-born critics cannot imagine.
Before I started interviewing the newest Americans, I expected to hear “freedom” as their chief reason for coming here.
I was wrong. Most came from democratic countries and had “freedom” of a sort. I did hear “freedom” and “safety” from some, such as the Iraqi Temple student who spent three years in a displaced persons camp as a child before winning the right to come here with her family.
Most new Americans though, said “opportunity,” the ability to work hard and achieve success was why they came. They believed that here, yes, the sky is the limit.
Before I introduce you to some of the “nobodies” Pelosi interviewed, she scattered in some notables, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Her family escaped to England from Czechoslovakia as Germans marched in during World War II. Albright says people could not have been nicer and quotes the Brits as saying, “:Your country has been taken over by a terrible dictator, you’re welcome here, what can we do to help you, but when are you going home?”
Her family next came to the U.S., and were also treated well, and were told the same things, except Americans asked, “When will you become a citizen?”
Despite occasional periods when the welcome mat was withdrawn, most Americans like immigrants, legal ones, anyway.
Pelosi asked her immigrants for the thing they like best about America, or why they came here. Some answers were surprising. I’m starting with Hile Corri from Albania, because he, improbably, chose food to talk about.
“I grew up, my entire life, we ate just corn and bread. Nothing else. You cannot imagine here, here is everything like paradise,” he says with a broad smile.
“My favorite thing about America is the 9-1-1,” says Maria Hayes of the Philippines. “I love it because you just dial the number and then they come right away, for your rescue.”
From Russia, Tatsiana Neudakh says, “I like customer service.”
“I stay here because I am a gay man,” says Hossein Alizadeh of Iran. “I cannot go back to Iran because of my sexual orientation.”
Cuban Nida Guerra wound up in Mississippi because her ex-husband was awarded a scholarship to law school in Oxford. “He said Oxford and I thought he meant Oxford, England, so I got excited,” she says. When she arrived in the Deep South, she felt culture shock. “I called my sister and said, ‘I am in Mayberry.’”
American culture is so pervasive both sisters knew what Mayberry meant. And it was positive — where strangers wave hello on the streets.
“Seeing America through the eyes of our newest citizens makes you realize all that we take for granted,” says Pelosi, at the end of her film.
“The American Dream is alive and well.”
I know some of you, poisoned by your political beliefs, don’t believe that is true. Don’t argue with me — try to convince Madeleine Albright, Hile Corri, Maria Hayes, Tatsiana Neudakh, Hossein Alizadeh, Nida Guerra and the million new Americans who join our family each year.