Overseas, almost everybody I have ever met wants to be American, or at least in America. I realize that sounds chauvinistic, perhaps arrogant, but it is true – and for myriad reasons, ranging from traditions to scenery, roots to realities.
From sea to shining sea, ours is a blessed nation of fabulous variety. From the Grand Canyon to Grand Central, our natural wonders rival any on earth, while our manmade wonders are the envy of history. Even those with harsh critiques of certain aspects of our foreign or economic policies, or who find fault with some segment of our civil society, still want to be here. We don’t have a perfect union, but it’s the best the world has to offer.
There is an undeniable, even mystic attraction to this New World Colossus. Some are drawn by our remarkable freedom to be or do virtually anything that doesn’t interfere with anyone else.
You can watch Fox News or Al Jazeera or Comedy Central. You can be Republican or Democrat, Green Party or Black Panther.
You can stay up late or stay in bed.
You can shave your head or grow a mustache, be vegan or carnivore.
You can like the Yankees or Red Sox, Red Bulls, Redskins, Cincinnati Reds or no one at all.
Ours is a nation of law with a written contract between the government and We the People. There are limits on what the government can do for and to us, and vice versa. We have to pay taxes in return for certain inalienable rights and responsibilities. There are speed limits and smoking bans and laws against robbing banks or hurting people, but everyone is free to be silly, smug, sensational or sensitive.
Left-wing, right-wing, Libertarian and Tea Party may complain about government overreach, but ours is the world’s freest society.
You can dig Ayn Rand or Leo Trotsky, John Maynard Keynes or Adam Smith, Sigmund Freud or Timothy Leary.
You can be Catholic or Jewish, Sunni or Shiite. You can be publicly gay, straight, queer, bisexual or transgender.
You can be part of your neighborhood watch group or keep your windows shut tight with the curtains permanently drawn.
You can be engaged, be reclusive or whatever else floats your boat. You can believe in one God or none, wear black shoes or brown, vote yea or nay or not at all.
Opportunity is also a hallmark of being an American. Whoever you are, whether you come from Tulsa or Topeka, Tallahassee or Tompkins Square, you don’t have to stay there, or follow in your father’s footsteps, unless that’s what you want to do.
You are free to travel to the four corners of the country, your mobility limited only by your imagination and budget.
You can pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get a job, invent something or go to school.
You can join the blessed military, be against all war, campaign against injustice or march topless in Coney Island at the annual Mermaid Parade.
Our diversity of choice is matched only by the diversity of our people. We are the product of an historic melting process. We welcome newcomers; immigrant vigor has strengthened us and made us younger, as a nation, than our rivals. No place has that incredible ethnic, religious and racial diversity. Whoever you are, whatever color or language and wherever you come from, you can find someone here who shares your psychic DNA.
So, you’re homesick? No problem. Unless you hail from an alien world, immigrants from your particular corner of humanity are already here to give you the secret sauce or habla la lengua or do the handshake or whatever you need to feel at home.
When my mother’s parents fled the anti-Semitic pogroms raging in Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century, they found safe haven and a place to earn a decent living and raise their family here. When my dad, one of 17 children, left the sugar cane plantations of Puerto Rico armed with his first-in-our-family high school diploma, here he found opportunity, and my mom.
For these and countless other reasons, I’m proud to be an American.