America, the Beautiful

The first thing I can remember learning about America was that people came here to escape religious persecution. My family was very religious so this narrative made sense to me at age 8 and I felt personally grateful that I was free to go to church. The second thing I learned was that America was a melting pot. This was an appealing idea as well, although as a child I had very limited experience actually living alongside people with different languages, cultures, religions or skin tones. Obviously, these lessons were a bit on the overly simplistic side. As I grew up I discovered all the ways that make it hard to live next to people who are different than you are and all the ways people can fight about it and offend each other, and how this is a human problem and not limited to my country.

The next thing I learned about America was how beautiful she is. I fell in love with her as M and I traveled thousands of miles by car and on foot. A lot of that is captured on this blog. I can still remember the first time I saw the land start to drop away into canyons as we drove into Texas. Hugging redwoods in California. Catching my first glimpses of the Smoky Mountains from the AT. Katahdin rising up over the lakes of Maine. All along the way, we experienced incredible hospitality and a lot of our preconceived notions about people from a particular area were changed.

Now with three children of my own, I view every issue through the lens of Mother. I can't help it. I sympathize with parents around the world who want to keep their children safe and fed and healthy but are out of options in their home countries. What if I had to watch out for suicide bombers when I got on a bus or went to the market? What if Laurel couldn't go to school or vote or have a job when she grew up? What would it be like to get on a raft with them and cross a sea? How would I handle it if I had to be separated from M? It makes me absolutely sick to think of every political conversation, policy, law and speech that does not explicitly acknowledge the fact that we are talking about PEOPLE, who are all pretty much just trying to do the best they can with what they've got.

Of course for lots of immigrants, the situation is not that dire. Perhaps they just want to be a part of America...go to school, run a business, practice their religion, or live in a place that has such natural marvels as the Grand Canyon, or just live around a great big mix of different sorts of people and be generally free to be yourself. I think people coming here - and bringing their religious beliefs, languages, food and culture - makes my life better and improves our country as a whole. (The food/restaurant situation in America without our immigrants would be terrible. No falafel?? No green curry??)

Am I worried about somebody harming my family? I'm a mom, so yes, I worry about everything. But foreign terrorists are waaaay back in the line....behind car wrecks, lead poisoning, cancer, and accidental shootings by toddlers because these are all higher on the list of things that are actually likely to happen to us...or have already happened to us.

One thing I wonder is if it makes sense to teach kids an idealized version of America when they are little and let their understanding of the complexities evolve over time. Or, do they need the full story from the beginning....


Anonymous said...

So happy to be reading your blog again :-)
Your children will be just fine. It seems like kids in general are exposed to more diversity today and the result is that "different" is "normal" in their eyes.
Aunt DC

Mary McKinley said...

I think whatever narrative of America you give them, they will construct their own from their own experiences -- with you and away from you. They are growing up exposed to a lot more different kinds of people and families than we did -- and even than you and Danna and Pete did.