They came from Slovakia, Lithuania, Germany, England, Switzerland, Hungary, and others. They left behind the comfort of the status quo. They left behind their families and lives. They came to places like Clifton, New Jersey. They came to places like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They came to New York City. Their names were changed at Ellis Island and in courthouse naturalizations after decades. They are my forefathers. They are my relatives. They’re why I’m here.
One joined the Navy, the other the Air Force. My grandfathers weren’t the only ones in the family to serve in our armed forces though. Here state side, they’ve served in township governments, worked for the states, and served the county. They found this country worth serving. That’s just another piece of why I’m here.
They worked in factories, garages, and prisons. They lived in apartments, suburban acre homes, and over top of bars. Some died with pennies, others with small fortunes. Some were here in colonial times, others came here in the roaring 20’s. Their stories are all different, but they all ended up here. In America. Living in this country as Americans.
I’ve never been ashamed to be an American a day in my life. Why would I be? My family never owned a slave or argued for segregation, though I acknowledge that to be a real disgrace in our history. My Catholic ancestors were more likely to be targets of the Ku Klux Klan than members, though I know what they did. America did terrible things, like the “Trail of Tears,” but it also put a man on the moon, defeated fascism in World War II, and advanced the creation of the internet, flight, and electricity. Every day, America does objectionable things and great things. Are we any more one than the other? I guess some people would argue we are. They can only do so because they live in the nation that created the very concept of the First Amendment.
The United States is far less than perfect, as is any nation created of humans. The standard is not perfection though, nor can it ever be such. When I sit around and have a beer with my friends who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don’t see Colonialists. When I sit and have dinner with legislators and elected officials I work with, I don’t see corporate shills. When I talk with fellow voters in my town, I don’t see heartless, greedy, self-interested people. To be fair, I am looking on them in a positive way. They will make mistakes. They will say the wrong thing. We all should try to get them to be better. But I do think most people do the best they can. Some times that’s better than others.
This is not a plea to ignore children in cages, or other objectionable actions by our government. It’s more a plea for those who share my political persuasion to not give up on your neighbors, your community, and your country. Don’t be over the top. Don’t be vindictive. That is not a pathway to a better future. It’s a downward spiral to nothing. It’s to ignore our actual past, in favor of a less than 3D view of our people, past and present. It’s to not appreciate the actual country that made you and put you here, to argue the battles you need to fight right now. Don’t do that to yourself.