A real American. There are many pathways to become one. Real Americans, citizens all, are of every ethnicity on the planet.
Being born on U.S. soil does not make that citizen any more real than the next. Further, the American national identity encompasses all nationalities of the Earth.
Nothing could be clearer to those Americans living in Hawaii, for example: The 50th State is noted for racial diversity, and for having its own immigrant heritage as its cultural essence.
The idea that anyone’s citizenship, whether naturalized or birthright, could be somehow substandard became the talk of the nation this past week, with rightful pushback against prejudicial rhetoric.
Immigration has been the source of talent and potential from around the world that, one generation to the next, becomes part of the American landscape.
All but indigenous peoples came from elsewhere, so the hallmark of America is defined by its multiculturalism and the way it is continually refreshed by its newest citizens.
There’s a counter view that, sadly, has intensified. And according to its proponents, citizenship is not bestowed in equal measure. Those whose ancestry makes them a minority are presumed to be lesser Americans, they say, no matter how well they’ve memorized the Pledge of Allegiance.
All of this comes up because of a firestorm in the nation’s capital last week, one that spilled out in even more distressing fashion at a presidential campaign rally in North Carolina.
In the midst of a public power struggle between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and four freshman dissidents (dubbed “The Squad”) within the Democratic caucus, President Donald Trump jumped into the fray via Twitter.
Taking aim at the congresswomen’s progressive stance, he remarked that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” then suggested that they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
All four are American citizens, and in a blatant factual misfire, the tweet ignores the facts that three of the four were born in the United States. The fourth, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, was naturalized after coming to America with her parents as refugees from Somalia.
Even worse than the tweetstorm was how it became magnified among the polarized public. At a presidential rally, where a decidedly anti-immigrant mood was in evidence and Trump criticized Omar for statements he described as “vicious anti-Semitic screeds,” the chant rose up from the crowd: “Send her back! Send her back!”
The fact that all four of the congresswomen at issue are women of color raises the disturbing prospect of racism, which is threaded through the darker side of American history.
Defenders of these statements, including the president himself, say that this is not racism but a kind of patriotism of the “America, love it or leave it” brand (that slogan, in fact, was on T-shirts sold at the rally).
Even if you accept such an excuse, that is the weakest form of patriotism anyone could claim. The very soul of America is the freedom to disagree about how government best serves the people. Agree or disagree on policy — with Trump, “The Squad” or anyone else — Americans have the right to voice their views without ejection from their home country.
Hawaii is not without its own racial tensions, but it’s a place that indisputably is more accustomed to ethnic diversity, owing to its plantation era that brought in so many immigrants. So it’s more difficult for isle residents to reckon with polls showing an apparently growing discomfort with the state of immigration.
Most people accept the necessity for some restrictions on immigration, on having a robust system of vetting an applicant for admission to the country, on giving some preference to those with skills needed in the economy.
The notion of “open borders” may be a catch phrase batted about in current debates; however, neither the Democrats nor, certainly, the Republicans, have proposed that as part of a party platform. But the immigration system has been backlogged and unworkable for decades and must be fixed — if that’s still possible.
Unfortunately, coherent immigration policy proposals have withered to become a mere political wedge issue, one side hammering the other, pushing the needed reform of the nation’s broken pathway to citizenship out of reach.
The fact that rhetoric unbecoming of a president is now reverberating across the nation is a sad commentary.
The job of a “real American” would be to change the tone of the national discourse, and shift to a positive trajectory. We know how to do that in Hawaii. And in greeting Omar at the airport, her Minnesota constituents showed they could, too.
“Welcome home, Ilhan!” they shouted, rather than “Send her back!”
All citizens of these United States are indeed welcome. America is our home.