Across the Hudson River in New York stands Liberty Tower where the Twin Towers stood.
Across the Hudson in New Jersey, is Liberty State Park. Close to The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, two memory walls with names of those who perished in the Towers on 9/11 and an old railroad station and relic rails to points beyond the city.
Having experienced all of that and paying attention to the people probably making assessments of the impact 9/11 made and makes which were similar to mine, I listened to the languages. Voices from 360 degrees were not native to my ears, nor did some clothing match mine. I felt something.
These are not my people.
They were no threat to us, some even acknowledged us. Most were doing what we were doing. If this country is a melting pot, for many generations, this was where the first glimpse of the pot would have been. We have a DVD study of the Italians coming into and getting off the boats at Ellis Island. The immigrants expressing gratitude to be in the new land—the place of the American Dream. Yet in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty I was aware people around me were not my people. I didn’t know what the word “have a great life” sounded like in their language or what the pursuit of happiness looked like to them.
For us to be Americans—brothers and sisters—where will that happen if even in the shadow of common national symbols we are not “people”?
To be a people we must have common language, common experiences, common histories and appreciation for each other’s heritages. The Speaker of the House talked the other day about being a common people—Americans all. But we are not and that is part of the fractured core of our current culture. We have no common culture. Where can that be built, experienced and cherished?
At my wife’s mother’s funeral dinner, we had family from North Dakota sitting at the same table with family and friends from New Jersey. The mixed sounds were fun to hear and decipher. The other evening we ate supper in an Italian restaurant—no franchise!—a village restaurant where the hostess greeted some with hugs and kisses. I watched people and wanted to go to their tables and say, “Tell me your story.” I wanted our professional waiter from Greece to join us and tell me his story. He has been our friends’ waiter for a long time—but I don’t know his story.
We went to a favorite tavern for afternoon lunch and another mix of languages, belongings and greetings of which I knew none. But I was fascinated. But sure not my people—yet.
I went to Jr. and Sr. high school with kids who were not Baptist like I was then, whose parents and grandparents spoke different languages. When they began to talk to each other in native tongue, which I sure didn’t understand, I knew I was not their people. I was an outsider and afraid of stepping across some opaque line that would prove it.
The Founding of this nation has filtered all of this as we have viewed New York City skyline at midnight and then closer. By the time the Constitution was debated and then written, there were many dialects and languages and places of origins. From many came one. How? Common challenges, common goals, common beliefs and common meals that excelled the differences and they became a people.
It was called an experiment. America still is. Being a member of a tribe is different than belonging to silo tribalism. Becoming a people—Americans—requires having something in common and learning to enjoy the cultures learned around common tables. Bagels, baklava, Swedish meatballs, I like them all. Just waiting for an invitation.
©2019 D. Dean Benton—https://firstname.lastname@example.org