Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Battle Cry of the Anguished American Immigrant!….by Robert M. Katzman

 

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.

THAT…is freedom.

THAT…is America.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

robertmkatzman@gmail.com

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.
I don’t use PayPal. I just talk to people on the phone.
Fast, reliable service. Read my stories and see what you think.
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.

12 Comments »

Comment by Don Larson

July 21, 2008 @ 8:07 am

Hi Bob,

Thanks for writing another great article. I believe you captured the essence of a true American.

Don

Comment by Jyll

July 21, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

I agree that a diverse society is not only more interesting, but essential to personal growth. Even the most educated among us couldn’t possibly come up with the best possible solution to issues without first examing all the options, which means the consideration of opinions by people who don’t look like them, have the same background, the same way of life, etc.

I, as do most Americans, come from a family of immigrants; maternally from Ireland and Great Britain and paternally from Germany. Somewhere along the line there was a merger of one of these families with a native American, adding another unique culture to the mix. I also believe that the preservation of these cultures is imperative for our descendants to understand their roots, as is the preservaton of the native languages.

However, I loathe the day that I am required to fluently converse in a language other than my own in order to communicate with my customers. Would it be handy? Yes, indeed! Communication is key to understanding, but should I move to France I would not expect the French to speak English (although many do). I would expect to learn the language of the land. Since we have long lost the dialects of native America, that language in the U.S. is English.

On the other hand, I also believe that having command of more than one language is a great asset. I just don’t want to be told that I have to. Is this a sign of old age? We are a land made of immigrants from many, many lands, cultures, and with as many native languages, yet until recently those who choose to come here have been willing to learn the language of the land. I don’t understand the unwillingness to learn English. People come here for new opportunity and new experiences. One of those experiences should include learning to communicate with 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation Americans. That’s just my opinion.

Viva the melting pot!

Comment by Robert M. Katzman

July 21, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

Jyll, if I didn’t want diverse resposes, I wouldn’t have posted such an opinionated perspective.

I expect to learn primitive Spanish. My coming grandchild will be 25% Native American and also be bilingual. Sarah is taking Spanish this fall. Joy already took it 40 years ago. I already know commercial Spanish for cut and dried transactions.

I see the future clearly, from my own perspective but cluttered by emotion and a sense of fairplay. I am part of a tiny minority and feel that way…think that way. I also had 12 years of 4 different languages between 1958 and 1970. I was terrible at all of them.

I want your opinion up there because you represent a certain specific point of view. It is not important that you agree with me (although I like you),but it matters to me that you are willing to take the time to be part of the conversation. Better words than rocks. That’s what Israel is, right now, on a good day.

I welcome more civilized perspectives and I want people to read my thoughts in hopes I can influence a gentlness during the cultural transition.

It used to be, among the more demographically alert US citizens that,

“Well, I know that Spanish will be coming here in a big wave,SOME day…” Now,Jyll, that day is here.

Via con Dios 🙂
Bob Katzman

Comment by Man of Science

July 22, 2008 @ 10:02 am

Nice article, thank you. But, FYI: The Transcendental Meditation technique is not a religion, it’s a scientifically proven technique for reducing stress and unfolding the immense creative potential that lies within everyone. TM doesn’t involve beliefs or any change in lifestyle. One doesn’t even have to believe in it for it to work. But I’m sure glad we have the freedom to practice it without some lopsided podunk declaring it’s a contraband religion that can’t practiced here or that it doesn’t belong in the schools, where it’s needed the most.

Comment by Robert M. Katzman

July 23, 2008 @ 11:06 am

Dear Man of Science,

It is very thoughtful of you to respond, so thank you. Now, whoever reads my latest story will also read your description of TM, which is welcome of course. Maybe it could be introduced to the US Congress. It couldn’t hurt.

My goal in that last line was to list very different or more obscure organizations, cults or groups that can safely express themselves without fear of suppression in this country. My middle daughter was interested in learning about Wicca and its history. I was happy she was curious and that she was learning, too.

I know TM isn’t a religion. But it is widely practiced and respected, and so I thought:
“Why not include it?”

If you are curious, please read my other stories. maybe you’ll get interested and want to know more.

Thanks again for writing to me.
Bob Katzman

Comment by Marilyn

August 3, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

Great input on the subject of “diverse but holding it together” which is done amazingly well for our big country. Maybe TV is the glue! Anyway, especially liked what you wrote, Bob, and the response by our mutual friend, Jyll.

My heart was touched by your essay “When We are 70 and you are 40”. I thought the messy rooms still mattered!!
Anyway, I wondered if you have printed that as a poster.
Maybe I have it in my inventory, I’ll check in the morning, or when I’m closer to being 67 by nine hours!

From Kansas, my regards to all. Marilyn

Comment by Bob Katzman

August 11, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

Hey, Marilyn!!!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
Considering it’s Kansas, I Guess I’ll wish you good weather and good health…in that order.

There is no existing posters of the 70/40 essay. But there can be. I’m glad you like it. feel free to tell me if you have any questions about any of the other stores, if you wish.

See you,
Bob

Comment by Dobie Maxwell

August 17, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

Hi Bob,

Fantastic writing as usual. Much needed in a day and age where reading and writing are becoming a lost art.

Thanks for sharing your gift! Keep it coming.

Your friend,

Dobie

Comment by Bob Katzman

August 17, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

Dobie,
I hope the Comedy Gods smile on you and you can catch a break. Nice guys shouldn’t have to work as hard as you do to try and make a buck. I hope the gas prices drop to give you some relief from the feeling you must have of”Why am I doing this?”

You are not the only person who asks themselves that question.

See you, my friend,

Bob

Comment by Marjorie Howard

June 23, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

Hi Bob,
A great piece about the value of diversity, accepting differences and yet seeing the similarities in one another.

My belief has always been that, like it it not, we’re all in this boat together. If ONE of us sinks – we ALL sink.

I appreciate having the opportunity to learn about cultures other than my own. If we glean the very best qualities and traits from all of them and offer EVERYONE a fair and equitable opportunity for a happy and successful life – this world, our world and the one we pass on to our children – will be a better place.

Wishing you the best,
Marjorie

Comment by Debbie

August 4, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

Bob,

I enjoyed getting to meet and speak with you last Saturday. Thank you for sharing your website/writings with me. This is a very thought provoking writing.

Keep sharing your gift with the world around you!

Debbie

Comment by Herb Berman

February 24, 2017 @ 8:10 pm

That’s a good piece, an optimistic and idealistic understanding of pre-Trump America. But we now have a paranoid in charge, a narcissist who can function only by finding and destroying enemies. If necessary, he will invent enemies. I think he defines himself only in negative, oppositional terms—whom and what he hates. He’s wholly negative, and hell-bent on dividing and conquering— America first, then the world. Unfortunately, he’s also poorly read, largely uneducated and unintelligent. He can and will be under the thumb of the worst of America’s fascists. These are very scary times.

There’ve been very black times in our history. We were born in war, prospered on slave labor, and conquered the frontier by exterminating and enslaving the continent’s aboriginals. And yet, we have slowly built a rough democracy, and until the recent election, were working hard to eliminate most forms of discrimination. I’m not optimistic about the immediate future. I hope I’m very wrong.

Trump wants to restore our Dark Ages, and he’s well-supported in this endeavor.

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