Saturday, September 10, 2011

Anyone can be American

In her interview, Heather Penney described her hopeful view of America as "open hearted pride."   I liked this a lot.  

On the anniversary of 9/11, I reflect on what it means to be an American.  Here is what I tell my kids:

Anyone can be American.

We are the only country on earth that hyphenates.

Think about it.  Irish-American.  Italian-American.  Mexican-American.  And so forth.  We are a dash nation.

With obvious exceptions (Native Americans), we are all from somewhere else (if you think you are "American" check this out).  As Americans we embrace this idea not with reluctance, but with gusto.  Think of our credo -- we pledge allegiance to the flag.  Your parents don't need to be American, you don't need to be a certain race or color, you don't need to be a specific religion -- you just need to think like us.  It's awesome.

As a point of comparison, I don't think this is as common in Europe.  I think that Europe rationally welcomes immigrants, but not with their heart.  It is by law and by decree that Pakistanis are welcomed in the UK.  But I doubt that many Brits would believe that a naturalized Pakistani in the UK is a real Brit.  Same with Turks in Germany or France.  Just my guess.

There are times, like 9/11, when we are reminded that not everyone thinks like us.  Big parts of the world still believe in smothering human initiative and spirit, and have engineered a terrifying, zero sum game for the people under their control.  As we've seen with the Arab Spring, these are viruses in a world that wants to be free and wants a better life.  

We have the luxury of living among the true believers and so we forget this.  But the danger is real and sometimes we see it in the most extreme and violent ways.  America, even after 200+ years is still a vital experiment.  Left exposed it will be be extinguished.  Immediately and violently.

So, we must defend it.  This beautiful, radical, simple idea that we have takes work, sacrifice and costs real money.  And make no mistake, it will be expensive.  It will cost in the worst ways.  As the father of two boys I realize that someday I may need to put them on a plane and say goodbye as they telegraph the fight.  Or worse, lace up their boots for a home game. 

Anyone can be American.  9/11 reminded us how fragile our idea is, and how important it is that this world always has this option.