Saturday, July 21, 2012

"An American Citizen"

By Tony Harriman  •

As a Brit living in the USA for more than thirty years, I have had many occasions to celebrate and think about the Fourth of July.

My first exposure to Independence Day was in Miami, Florida in the early 1980s.  The people with whom I shared an orbit were not fiercely patriotic, but neither were they unmindful of the freedoms they enjoyed.  Even though Miami is often thought of as being populated mainly by Latin Americans, many of my friends were of Jewish descent; and these people held a special place in my heart.  Still do.

My father served in the Royal Air Force as a rear-gunner in a Lancaster Bomber during the Second World War, so, through the stories he reluctantly shared from time to time, I was given some idea of what it meant for people to live in fear of their lives — both on the ground, and in the air.  Many of "Our Boys" really didn't get a good look at what they were fighting for until Europe was finally liberated from the Nazis and the prison camps were opened.  Only then did the world catch a glimpse of how inhumane humanity can actually be.

Since I first visited the USA in 1981, I have met many different brands of the “American Citizen.”  The older generation (whom I actually enjoy more than any other — not sure why) are generally the most content with their country.  Even though they remember well the Good-Ol-Days, they know for a fact that things could DEFINITELY be worse (ie: The Great Depression).  In 1981 a gallon of gas cost about 50-60 cents.  A pack of cigarettes cost .75¢.  Two people could go the movies, have popcorn and a couple of drinks, and still have change out of ten bucks.  I had visited other parts of the world before this, and to me the American Dream was looking very much awake.  It was an easy decision to move here and sort out the paperwork later.

But, like I said, I have met many different brands of American.  Fair enough — a lot of the people living in Florida shouldn't have legally been there; but the alternative for many of them "back home" was a life of poverty or fear in their native land south of the border.
Many of the American citizens I met were outwardly anti-anybody-else.  "Would the Last American To Leave Miami Please Bring the Flag" was a common bumper sticker emblazoned on the many Toyotas and Datsuns — go figure.

Having been raised in London, the multi-cultural society of South Florida actually appealed to me, and seemed to me to be what America "was all about."  I mean, everyone I spoke to in the USA was from "somewhere else" — Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, the Middle East.  I do remember working in a restaurant in North Miami where one of the waiters was a full-blooded Navajo Indian; he was one of the most interesting people I have met so far on my journey through America.  I always got a kick out of how he spoke like John Wayne.  Never saw him flustered.  And I never forgot that he could honestly say, "I am an American."

I suppose "Living in America" ought, because of the Constitution for which so many gave their lives, to include the right to be indifferent about the Constitution, and to give others the right to burn themselves for their beliefs, and gather peaceably outside City Hall, or around the Reflecting Pool — or wherever else — and say their piece.

Many Americans just want to get on with their lives, make a living, put their kids through college so they can make a difference where they failed.  They are not interested in the smaller wheels of the machinery that keep the country going.  And that’s okay.

Many Americans give generously to special causes — worldwide.

Many Americans want to milk the country dry, because the Government "Owes me."

Many Americans want to make a better world for those who come behind — no matter the cost.

Many Americans would rather let the world outside our shores burn itself down, than send more of our kids to go straighten out those in far away lands who seem to have no sense.  "You don't like the way we live?  Fine!  You stay over there, and we'll stay right here.  How 'bout that?  Quit messing with our people.  You don't even know me;  Why do you want to kill me?"

In the summer of 2002 I made a decision to become an American citizen — a decision; a choice; something that I wanted to do.  No one forced me to change allegiance.  I chose to add my voice and my vote to American society.  In 2002 America was still freshly wounded from the 911 attacks.  I was living in the USA when the attacks happened and had been given an opportunity to see America at its worst and its best.  After all this time, I’m still getting angry about the event as I write these few words about it.  I don’t want to “go there,” so we’ll park that episode here ….

Many of the Americans I know are “gutsy” people: reluctant (and sometimes unable) to walk away from a challenge.  You wanna go west?  There’s a young man right here for the job.  You wanna go to the moon?  Yeah, we’ve got someone to handle that.  And gutsy is the right word.  This country is near full of gutsy people because it took gutsy people to get the country started.  Way back there before the King James Version of the Bible came off the press, entrepreneurs and those willing to work for them headed west from England to Virginia to explore a “Brave New World.”

I’m not much interested in the American political arena.  Do I agree with everything that comes out of Washington DC?  No.  Do I understand every law that’s on the books?  No.  I’m not made to feel I have to be in agreement with everything the higher-ups dish out — that’s part of being American: somewhat rebellious.  I exercise the same philosophy with the church I attend.  Do I understand and agree with everything my church has on the books?  Not necessarily.  But there are fundamental truths that this country and my church promote that are worth standing for: “Every man, woman and child is created of equal value,” and “We have a God-given opportunity to make a difference for good in someone else’s life;” no matter their country of origin.

Occasionally I engage in conversation regarding these topics, and my conclusion is always the same: I am a citizen of Planet Earth.  I had no control over where I was born, the language I speak or how I speak it.  My complexion was given me by my parents, which parents were also not of my choosing.  Though I may be an American citizen, I feel I am also a member of the great dysfunctional family of earth — just like the rest of us.  And maybe that blood should run just a little thicker.

Just my take on it …


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