Every March, Americans of Irish descent, and Americans who just love a good party, come together to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Schools and workplaces will look like someone mandated green uniforms, real and imaginary brogues will be the national dialect, young and old will march in festive parades, and everyone will toast the health, future, and anything else that comes to mind of his family, friends and neighbors.
In short, a good time will be had by all.
But if anyone actually asked those whose ancestors hailed from Ireland what their nationality is, they would unequivocally self-identify as Americans. The same is true for those whose ancestors arrived from Italy, Germany, France, China, Greece, or any of the other countries whose emigrants arrived on our shores throughout the last 200 years. They came here to become Americans, and they achieved that goal.
In doing so, they left old hatreds behind. In World War II, for example, the Germans and the French were enemies, but Americans of German descent and Americans of French descent fought together as friends. In the 1990's Bosnia and Croatia were at war, but Americans of Bosnian descent and Americans of Croatian descent worked together to assist the orphans of that war.
They didn't forget their heritage. American cities and towns have ethnic festivals, clubs, museums, restaurants, and memorials, but in America, people of all ethnic backgrounds are invited to participate in sharing the ancestral cultures of their neighbors. At an American ethnic festival, a visitor can enjoy music from South America, while drinking English tea and munching on a Greek gyro.
The varied ethnic heritage of Americans has enriched our culture, but the culture enriched was an AMERICAN one.
The immigrants came here, not to re-create the place that they came from, but to become part of the country they were entering.
They learned the language, and made sure their children learned the language, because they understood that shared language is the first step to shared culture. They also understood that if they and their children could not communicate effectively, they could not advance. They came here to build lives, and they actively worked to break any barrier between themselves and the future they had come here to create. Inability to speak English was the first barrier, and they overcame it as quickly as possible.
They found jobs. It wasn't easy. Each ethnic group had to overcome initial prejudice, and each group started with the jobs others didn't want, but each understood that to become part of America, they had to contribute to America. Each found a way to do so.
And in doing so, they made both themselves and America better for their presence.
But in the past decade, that mindset has changed. For many of today's immigrants, there is no desire to become Americans. There is no effort to learn the language or embrace the culture. It's like they are hyphenated Americans — caught between the culture they left and the one they refuse to accept. They don't seem to understand that the people they are hurting by their refusal are their own families.
America has opened her arms and her opportunities to people from around the world. One does not have to be born an American to become an American. One just has to accept the invitation. Let us hope that today's immigrants abandon the hyphen they cling to and fully join the country where dreams really can become realities.
Luksik's INTERVIEW TOUR schedule and KITCHEN TABLE column are posted and continually updated at www.pegluksik.com.