When Memorial Day began, it was proclaimed Decoration Day: the intention was to honor both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. The founders hoped that such a day would begin to rebuild the relations between North and South: indeed, May 30th was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any Civil War battle. On the first Decoration Day, 5,000 participants decorated the 20,000 graves of soldiers from both armies buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. Even so, the bitter aftermath of the war continued, and the South had its own Confederate Memorial Day. After WWI, DecorationDay was changed to Memorial Day, and honored all who died in any of our country’s wars, as it does today. Since Memorial Day is the harbinger of summer, long week-ends and parties with family and friends are more usual than the parades on the Fourth of July.
Still, it is a day to remember those who gave their lives,and still are, so that our country can be “the land of the brave and the free.” It does seem to me that public demonstrations of patriotism are not as prevalent as they were when I was growing up. One still sees American flags in front of homes, but not nearly the number in years past. In my view, the Vietnam War had a lasting effect on patriotism here. A vast amount of people didn’t approve of it, and the treatment the veterans got when they returned from a war fought in ways they had never encountered and weren’t prepared for was, in my view, disgraceful. Now, the number of cases in which one group or another wants to prohibit school children from saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and the growing trend of events like the Super Bowl to have popular singers of the day sing THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER as if it were popular music of the moment, instead of giving it the dignity it deserves, dishearten me. And I think each such instance is a blot on the flag, which is a symbol of all the words and thoughts and actions of generation after generation of Americans who have tried to keep this country true to its beginnings.
To be patriotic, in my view, means being a committed citizen of a country. And to be a committed citizen with your head as well as your heart requires some knowledge of how our nation began, how it progressed, how its governmental systems work. I think one of the biggest mistakes this country has made is not requiring people migrating here to learn to speak, read and write English. Nor do we require sufficient study of American history, our Constituion and governmental system, for them to truly understand that while we, like any country, have flaws, we also have virtues. Further, we don’t require that migrants without a trade or skill to support them have training that will lead to jobs.
The reason for coming to this county might be to be with family; to have a better life; or to flee despots and violence. But whatever the reason, surely it would benefit both migrants and this country if they learned English, learned about this country, had a trade or learned one.
Would it cost a lot of money to provide English and American History classes as well as job training? Of course. Would the long-lasting benefits be worth it? Of course. The immigration crisis we now have could, I think, have been averted if, when migrants from Central and South America began staying here, instead of going home after they’d followed the crops from Texas to Michigan, the suggestions cited above, or similar ones, had been put into place.
It’s been twenty years since Congress changed immigration laws to meet the times. Nor does it look as though they will find effective ways of doing this any time soon. Arguments over numbers of migrants to let in; arguments over what requirements are necessary; arguments over just about everything but requirements that would help turn migrants into English speakers with a basic knowledge of how and why this country works, preparing them for American citizenship.
It’s natural for migrants from the same country to want to live where their countrymen are: familiar foods and celebrations help ease the move from one culture to another. At the same time, migrants who wish to become citizens should understand that trying to impose traditions, rituals and customs of their home country on others is divisive. The reason this country was called “a melting pot” was that since it was founded, and people began coming here to find new lives, they joined all the others who were Americans. They maintained their old traditions, held celebrations, lived personal lives that mirrored the lives they’d had in their home country. But they did not impose any of this onto the public at large: this united the country.
The last decade has seen a change, due, in my view, to political correctness being taken too far. It’s one thing to respect people whose native culture is different from our own. It’s another to bend over backwards in efforts not to offend people whose native culture is different from our own. The confusion, I think, rests on the notion that if people new to our country aren’t comfortable with the culture they find, the culture should change. Being a citizen is both a privilege and a responsibility. And one of the responsibilities is to accept that if you migrate here, the implication is that you want to be an American. Which means that you are free to bring your culture with you, but you’re not free to expect others to adopt its precepts and practices, since they have their own.