I fell in love with this country, specifically New England, when I was about four and living in the upper woods of Maine on a now defunct Air Force Base. To a child it was a winter wonderland, a spring and summer full of adventure and exploration, and an explosion of color in the fall. Forest creatures that strayed in need of help were some of my first “pets”.
I grew up pledging allegiance to the flag and celebrating the 4th of July with clambakes, fireworks and sparklers. By the time I came to Boston, I had two dogs & three cats in tow and I had learned of the best and worst of this country.
I was very young at the time and those lessons took years, even decades to thoroughly sink in, but
They are my psychological foundation. Through traveling from base to base from birth to age 8, I learned that there was no difference between skin color, race, or sex. I saw my first interracial couple at age 3 and unlike many of my later school friends my world stretched far beyond my own ethnic and religious affiliations.
I didn’t care that ethnically I was in the minority when we returned to Boston, for ethnicity and cultures were fascinating to me. Learning the ways of my Italian neighbors was a mini-adventure and when I started meeting Spanish, Hispanic and islander transplants, to my school it was something new to learn. While others were scandalized when the first black (in those days we said black and not african american) student arrived, I thought nothing of it, except wondering what creole dishes his mom would make for study time. I laughed at anyone who said I couldn’t hang around or play with a person because they weren’t like “us.”
“What does that mean? Aren’t we all immigrants from one place or another?” It never dawned on me to think otherwise. Then one day, I got my first taste of discrimination directed towards me. When I revealed that I wasn’t just of Irish-German descent, but I was actually born in Germany and held dual citizenship, some kids began “goose stepping” around me. Years later I found out the instigator had a crush on me.
I had to hear that I was the enemy of both Jews and Americans alike, which puzzled me. I wasn’t born during WWII and my family of Americans fought for this country. I had met Jews on the base and outside of some different eating habits, I thought they were pretty cool.
Germans were always kind to me, when I had the good fortune to meet them and I was raised to believe that it didn’t matter where you came from so long as you tried to live a decent life and be true to yourself. It truly was the cornerstone of my foundation which allows me to treat people with “a live and let live” view and an intense curiosity on how they saw the world.
Yet, I learned to curtail this curiosity to keep from seeming rude or prying into areas they didn’t want to share. I watched the neighborhood around me morph and change as the Irish moved to Southie and the Italians to the north shore. With each changing of the guard, I saw the same pattern.
There were the ethnic cliques keeping to themselves and not opening up to the grand adventure that this new world offered, and then there were the ones that fascinated me. They opened themselves up to their new life in America, embracing the language, culture and norms even if odd to them. While they didn’t ignore their heritage, they saw the US as their home, their country: for better or worse. They got involved with the “natives” and enjoyed sharing their culture with their new friends. Sure they waived their flags to celebrated St. Patty’s day, feasts of the saints, cinco de mayo, etc. but along with those flags was the flag of their new home…old glory.
It is these people who truly embody what our forefathers had intended for this country–a place where we could live in peace, respecting our individual heritage, beliefs and norms without fear of reprisal or jail. They didn’t come here to “take over” but to be part of a new life, new culture and new promise.
I love these people most. They never utter in my country unless they are talking about the USA, they are proud of where they came, but even prouder of where they are going. In this immigrant nation it is more about where your head is than where you actually came from. Sure you can remain closed off and only associate with those things from your former home that have been transplanted here, and live quite well. But, that would be short changing your life. You have moved to a new world, a new culture and a new country and the wonder comes when you truly immerse yourself in it, making it your own and discovering new things about yourself.
If I decide to make another country my home, even for a little while, I will take this mentality with me. Fully immersing myself in the language, culture and daily norms of my adopted home.
But, for now New England is home. No matter how far I travel the call of green and white mountains, rocky beaches and blue hills draw me back.
As I sit here on the Fourth of July watching our traditional viewing of “JAWS” and reciting the dialogue, I let go of all the problems facing our country, all the ruminations on things I can’t change; and recall the lazy, hazy sweet summer days of my youth when life was about watermelon, iced tea and fireworks.
Happy Fourth of July…may this young nation continue to grow and progress forward.