We are a nation of pilgrims. Unless you are a Native American Indian, you have the blood of immigrants. So, although you feel like a native, your family came here from somewhere else. Our individual immigration stories give credence to the fact that we are the scrappiest, hardest-working collection of people on the planet. Our relatives fled famine, persecution, incarceration or were brought here in chains. Some how they made it. Some way they built a life. It wasn’t easy to do, but they did it. And, they inspired a nation then and now. So, for that, we give thanks.
The Pilgrims were the first immigrants to the New World in 1621. Welcomed by Squanto, a Wampanoag Indian, whose generous spirit taught the first settlers how to build shelters, hunt, fish and farm the land. The Pilgrims that survived the first year, held a feast to celebrate their successful harvest and to give thanks to Squanto, and other Native Americans, that helped them pull it off. If you are a “hostess with the mostess,” you will also appreciate the fact that the Indians brought most of the goodies. So, what happened after the big feast and gushy banquet of thankfulness? Did the immigrants and the “real” Americans live happily ever after? Nope. Squanto was kidnapped, sold into slavery, escaped, helped by monks to get back to his native land 10 years later. When he finally got home, his tribe had been decimated by plague and settlers had taken his land. Soon there after, he caught a white man’s disease and died. Awesome. Not really the story we tell our kids.
With an adventurous spirit and strong determination, the white man thrived. Over time, stories of the land of opportunity made their way around the globe and scrappy dreamers from every country made their way to America’s shores. The road was bumpy and very difficult. But, in general, the rules were to find your way here, check in, work hard and the dream was yours. We became Irish Americans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, African Americans, Native American’s, etc., but all Americans, nevertheless. Proud and free. We share a belief that despite how we got here, we are lucky to be here. Our patchwork history is woven together with a bunch of scraps that make up a complex and beautiful quilt. More like the story we tell our kids.
We are a warm and inviting country, but post 9-11, with our current economic climate, and masses of illegal immigrants living in the United States our blankey is being torn apart. We have families trying to achieve the American dream and possible terrorists trying to destroy it, both hiding under the same quilt. We are afraid. We don’t want the fabric of our nation to be compromised in any way. We want folks coming here to have the desire to assimilate and learn the language, customs and respect for American values – to be part of the American dream, not create a nightmare for everyone else. We have some people who have real ambitions to add to the texture of the American way of life. They are lured by jobs and they are willing to work hard to provide the cheap labor that legal residents refuse to do. They have children who are figuratively, and oftentimes literally, American. They don’t speak their parent’s native language particularly well. They are fully Americanized, but because of their parent’s undocumented status, they are children without a country.
Some are here to harm America by plotting acts of terrorism, trafficking drugs and committing other serious crimes. We should be very concerned about them. The threat to our safety is real and we shouldn’t pretend it isn’t. However, we cannot allow the ideals of our nation to be tattered and torn by these elements. Our nation of immigrants was always about people coming to America to become American. To make our country stronger. To make a life and appreciate our patchwork culture and all of the wonderful things that come from it. Not just take its warmth, but work hard and become part of its colorful fabric–celebrate it, contribute to it and give it the respect it deserves. So, we are left to wonder, who is here to help us sew new, creative patches on our quilt? Who is just a turkey here to seek its warmth or hide? And, who is here to try and tear it all apart?
How will we ever know, unless we ask? Why can’t we just find out why people are here? You are born here – super. Just visiting – fab. Want to move in – great, but there are house rules. What if people who want to come here have a pathway for legal status? How about we have them sponsored by an American family, university or business? What if temporary visitors have to check in now and then…have a national i.d. card for everyone, so when you rent an apartment, get a driver’s license, enroll in school, get pulled over by the police, get a job, etc. we know that you have permission to be in America? Your status would be transparent. You are either our guest or part of our family, either way, if you come in the front door, we’ll welcome you. But, if we haven’t given you the key (a.k.a., the national i.d. card), then we’ll have to assume you broke in somehow and mean to do us harm or steal something, so we’ll have you arrested.
Hmmm, I wonder what Squanto would say?
Welcome everyone with open arms no questions asked? Nope. Don’t let strangers in or they’ll disrespect your way of life and take everything you have? Maybe not that either, since this is America, the land of opportunity and beckon for the world. Or, figure out how to protect your home, be careful who you allow in and make sure that when you feed, clothe and provide shelter for guests and loved ones, they say thanks!
We teach our children to have nice manners and be grateful for their many blessings. At the same time, we teach them to honor the generosity of the first Americans and the determination of the first immigrants who broke bread together. Because of them, all of our ancestors managed to stitch together a New World abundant with texture, color and quality. This vibrant quilt we call America is our most treasured family heirloom. We will proudly pass it on to future generations for comfort and security, to those who contribute to its patchwork, keep it fresh, mend it when necessary and appreciate its unique beauty…those thankful to be part of the fabric of our society, and do so by giving thanks and helping make our American family even stronger and safer, otherwise, we will have to ask you to leave.