Thursday, July 7, 2011

An American Fourth

Mine is a unique American story.  I am the daughter of an immigrant and the wife of an immigrant.  I have two son in laws that are immigrants.  As a child, I would climb the many steps to the crown of the Statute of Liberty.  I failed to ask my dad how he felt when he first saw the majesty of that monument. Nevertheless, I can imagine that as a young sailor, she spoke to him.  He came as a Norwegian sailor who never went back.  The immigrant experience is my story.

I left the cocoon of my Norwegian surroundings when I started school.  However, with the exception of my dearest BFF Barbara who was Italian and a couple of other girls on the block, my exposure to non-Norwegians was limited.  One summer, I decided to attend Sunday School at another church during the summer.  It led to our leaving our Norwegian church and attending Calvary Tabernacle.  No longer did my ear hear the hymns in slower tones accentuated with W’s pronounced as V’s and Jesus was Jesus, not Yeesus.  The Italian song leader with the long Italian name would wave his arms as he led us in praises to God.  The cacophony of sounds brought to life the hymn O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.  It seemed we were in heaven where every tongue and tribe were confessing that Jesus is Lord.

This weekend we traveled to the Northeast to visit family.  We enjoyed America’s favorite past time at the ball field in New Britain, aka, New Britski.  The announcer flawlessly commented on a child in the stands, his or her name was filled with w, z, k, and I’s.  My grandson, a mixture of several ethnicities shouted out “Play Ball!” and later read names and stats from the press box.  We ate breakfast with newly arrived Polish immigrants at our hotel in New Britski – they looked like “regular” Americans but they spoke their native tongue.  Such is America!

On this weekend, the Fourth of July weekend, I thought about immigrants.  On the Fourth, I sat in a mall food court.  It was not your traditional picnic with watermelon, burgers, hot dogs, and potato salad.  Oh, I had a hot dog, not because it was the Fourth, but because I love Nathan’s hot dogs.  Mine were slightly charred and had a snap when I bit into it. I so wanted to indulge myself with kraut and mustard but I opted for just some spicy brown mustard.  I only wish the sound of the ocean was in the background, the smell of salt air was mingled with the smells of the boardwalk, and the sound of the carousel tickling my ears.

My husband asked me where the “real” Americas were.  There was every shade of color, little English was heard, even the American looking couple were speaking Polish, or German, or some Eastern European language.  Later that evening, a young mother, probably of Indian origin was singing to her baby in a slight minor key, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I smiled. It was a symbol of the mix of cultures.  It was a fitting symbol of America.

In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, at a mall in New Jersey, at an Indian restaurant, or walking on shore line, I thought about the words of Emma Lazarus that are inscribed on the base of the Statue:

" Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I am proud to be an American.  
I am proud that our country still has a golden door of opportunity open for all.

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