To me, being an American is an idea.
A concept. An agreement of equals.
A willingness to tolerate the differences in others, and a celebration of the beauty of cultural diversity.
While maybe originally, ours was a government,
“Of the Protestants, By the Protestants and For the Protestants”
We’re bigger than that today. A numerically insignificant People like my own family, Jews, now represent less than 2% of the total American population, but I believe that our Constitution includes me when I read it. I don’t live in fear, here.
Soon, there will be more Moslems in America than Jews, but I don’t care. They came here to escape the same killing chaos that brought my family here, as well as looking for a new start and a fair chance to become successful. I welcome them. Besides, when the hating is missing, they may remember that we’re linguistic cousins who speak two versions of the same Semitic language, as do the Assyrians, who are Christian Arabs.
I’m happy to live in a country where the African-American and Hispanic populations overwhelm my own culture, because diversity doesn’t threaten me. I like living in a country where being different doesn’t limit you, like being Cypriot, Cambodian, Armenian, Ethiopean, Gypsy, Kazak, Slovakian or Bulgarian. Or Chechen, Bosnian or Somali.
The prospect of learning Spanish because the ever evolving tide of immigration and history now favor Latin America is not intimidating, because it will soon be the principal “American” language and my grandchildren will speak it fluently and wonder why I’m inept at it, like my immigrant grandparents whom were native speakers of Yiddish and found English to be daunting.
Damn frustrating English, impossible to spell but so rich in variety for songwriters and poets, has only been the lingua franca of North America for about three hundred plus years.
A speck in time.
Just as prior major “American” languages such as: Dutch, Swedish, Russian, French and Spanish, before all those conquering nations lost some major war and took their languages with them. When defeated, they retreated, back to Europe.
Or millenniums earlier, when a “real” American spoke Choctaw, Chippewa, Cherokee, Iroquois, Navaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Ojibwa or Hopi. Or uncountable other indigenous languages spoken from Spokane to Miami for 40,000 years. You lose the wars, your native language languishes. That’s reality.
Just as the French tried to suppress the Breton’s language and culture, the Russians suppressed the Latvians, the Japanese crushed the pale native Ainus and the English vainly tried to eradicate the Celtic peoples songs’ and speech, so did the mighty United States Government cruelly compel vanquished North American Indians to abandon their religions, art, music and many so ancient tongues in favor of the Victor’s English, but still would not accept them as equals.
And the reason for them to learn English was…?
Even the millions of brutally enslaved Africans who never stormed America’s borders, but were shipped here in chains, couldn’t have their intense and distinct cultures of music, art and dance obliterated by the beasts who savagely beat them and shattered their families.
Today, it would be fair to say, that culturally, Africa conquered the Western Hemisphere without firing a shot. Guns, whips, governments and the astounding ignorance of the enslavers were powerless against the undying creativity that filled the souls of a captured people. Their bodies were chained, but never their hearts.
Now comes Hindi in growing numbers and Chinese will be the dominant language on the internet. Are the Irish screaming because it’s not Gaelic? Are the Basques in turmoil because it’s not Basque? Or the Finno-Ugric of the Laplanders? Or the Louisiana French of the Creoles? Or Cornish? Or Tibetan? All those national groups are here in America, seemingly content and adapting with however this country evolves, because change remains constant.
As the Quechua speakers in Peru and the Mayans now in the Yucatan Peninsula learned to live with Spanish. As the Czechs accepted German and the Ukrainians and Uzbeks accepted Russian because Russians were the dominant force of northern Asia.
Now Russian is fading and losing 700,000 speakers a year as the Russian Federation’s population shrinks. Who would have dreamt such a thing could happen? Not the Estonians or Georgians.
But somehow, in America, the Puerto Ricans don’t attack the Hungarians, nor do the Palestinians attack the Nigerians because they or their parents speak different languages. English will do for now, until change comes again. Maybe immigrants have greater priorities than worrying about other languages seeking to dominate theirs, like escaping from Malaria or Typhoid, establishing new businesses or educating their children.
I want to live in a great American city like Chicago where there are two kinds of Italian restaurants, three kinds of Chinese, Persian, Lebanese, six kinds of Israeli, Vietnamese, Burmese, Cambodian, Bohemian, Creole, Yemeni, Swedish, Sicilian, Korean, and God knows how many different styles of Mexican cuisine, as well as at least that many different kinds of original language foreign film festivals.
How does that delicious mish-mash (a Yiddish word) of local restaurants threaten the identity and unity of America? Impossible to worry about, because it IS the identity of America.
I feel secure in a country that manages to successfully survive day-to-day with an Armenian Christian church, Abyssinian Church, two kinds of Mormons, fifty different versions of Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Greeks and Serbians, Ba’hai, an incomprehensible (to me) number of Jewish Synagogues and movements besides Ashkenazi and Sephardic, at least three kinds of Moslems, probably only one kind of atheist and I suppose anyone can be a Unitarian if the spirit moves them.
As well as: Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism, Wiccans, Druids, Christian scientist, Native American beliefs and Transcendental Meditation.
I don’t preoccupy my consciousness that they and many other religions function more or less smoothly and simultaneously every single day in America, because somehow this busy, busy country still chugs along.
I believe 95% of the United States population could care less how any given citizen here worships at any moment as long as someone else’s street parade doesn’t make them late for work.
One hundred other complex belief systems in this country don’t stop me from being immersed in my Judaism. I feel free to follow whatever my personal philosophy happens to be. I do not have to be secretly Jewish.
Try to understand the Wonder of this new idea for a country. I still believe America is the last best place on Earth…as long as we collectively pick a really smart person–a man OR a woman–to run the place. Someone truly “Of the people, By the people and For the people.”
All of the people.
That is so essential.
So, finally, what’s a real American?
Well, you don’t need to drive an 18-wheeler. You don’t have to love football or baseball. You don’t have to remain silent when unhappy with your government, and you don’t have to be your neighbor’s clone.
But you can be: Gay, poor, disabled, an angry intellectual, a free thinker, landless or a single contrary voice protected by all the rest of us. So you can speak your mind without fear. A man can fight for his country with both ideas and guns, words and bullets. Both are powerful weapons, but in the end, only the ideas will last.
Ultimately, a real American is someone who keeps their mind open and feels free to be whoever they are without preventing someone else from doing exactly the same thing.
God bless America, and my four brave Eastern European Jewish grandparents, for having the courage and perseverance to cross the Atlantic Ocean, over a century ago.
They each chose to leave irrational, murderous and bloody Europe, a Jewish graveyard–even then– for a different Promised Land.
When Czar Nicholas still ruled the gigantic prison of Russia.
When much of the Middle East and Palestine were ruled by the Ottoman Turks.
When the Hapsburg Dynasty ruled Central Europe.
While the United States was blessed to have Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.
Thank you, Nathan and Celia…Jacob and Rose.
Thank you for giving me America, as my country.
Katzman’s Publishing Company site: www.FightingWordsPubco.com
Katzman’s online non-fiction stories: www.DifferentSlants.com
Poetry? For me, writing poetry is not an option.
It’s a response to emotion. Like cigarette smoke,
it’s fast-flowing, shapeless and with little time to capture it.
Writing poetry is an imperative. I say what I feel compelled to say.
I sell my five published books via mail order and accept major credit cards.
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I’m also available for hire to read my true Chicago stories to organizations
and answer all questions. I autograph my books when I sell them.
I am currently seeking an agent to do more readings.