Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Portrait of Patriots

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On Saturday we will celebrate the birth of this country, our birth certificate signed by the founding fathers in an act of wild courage in declaration of autonomy from Britain and the intention to go forward in home rule.

233 years. That's how many candles are on the Independence Day cake this year.

Our history is not as clean and neat as we would like. It's not Jedis versus the Empire. It's a messy human history of bravery and slavery, autonomy for transplanted colonists and oppression for Native peoples. Wars have been waged on this soil. Democracy has been the grand experiment. And in spite of set-backs, embarassments, challenges and attacks, this country has stood firm and continues to stand as an a lodestar of dream and vision.

We all have our own stories as to how we arrived to this nation. My and Mike's families arrived here two centuries ago from Scotch-Irish roots. On my mother's side, the second born son of an Irishman realized that he would not inherent family fortune and land according to the laws of primogeniture and so he sailed for America in the late 1700's. My father's family arrived in the Carolinas before the turn of the 18th century. While we don't have records quite as far back on Michael's side, we can track his ancestors' paths through the South and into Texas.

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One of 2 of 8's dear friends, AN, came to this country in the arms of her adoptive parents from China. She has a sister adopted from Russia. She has a brother adopted from Thailand. She has another sister born to her parents in the U.S.

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Our neighbors are first generation Americans. Both of their families of origin escaped Iran during the overthrow of the Shah, the wife's family going to Germany, the husband's family going to England. When both of them were in their teens, their families made their way here.

Another precious friend came to the U.S. in the 1970's after escaping Vietnam and spending time in a camp in Cambodia. She was twelve. Through the years, she sponsored each of her eight brothers and sisters and ultimately her parents, reuniting all her family here on American soil. She married a man who is German by heritage.

My sister-in-law T has her own American story. Her mother was born in Poland during World War II. Her birth parents died and she was adopted by the wife of a deceased SS officer. While in her twenties, she met a young American GI. They fell in love, got married, and returned to the good ol' U.S.A, giving birth to my sis-in-law a few years later.

1 of 8 has a fascinating friend from Guinea in West Africa. He was born there, then moved to Morocco, then went to work in Paris. He came to the U.S. a year ago, speaking beautiful French, sent here by the Starbucks corporation. His mother, still back in Guinea, has been very concerned about her son living in Texas, where she is convinced people still live like the Wild Wild West.

And when I look around at the precious faces of friends around me, when I reflect that we have all arrived at this time and place from such scattered histories and geographies, I am renewed. I am renewed by the vision of a nation that builds the culture of its people from the histories and traditions of the world. I am renewed by the vision of a nation in which Lady Liberty not only holds up a torch, but opens her arms to the citizens of the globe. We don't do it perfectly. We haven't figured out all our immigration issues. We trip and stumble. We fuss and fight. But we are a family of siblings created from the mutual desire of our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents to give us the chance for something more.

And we come together as a kaleidescope of kinsmen, all bearing the same surname: American.

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God Bless America.




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