Only In America

I still believe...

In America

...the ideal, not the United States of Statism that I railed about almost a year ago on 04/21/10 in my blog post This Is Not America: It is now merely the United States. I was angrier then about how the American Dream had been derailed by Social Democrats and the lack of any real opposition party. I wasn't much younger then, but I am older than that now (apologies to Dylan), although I'm still not beyond discussing the issues.

Sometimes I think immigrants understand what "America" means much more than many natural born Americans do. Although I emigrated from a former British colonial island 700 miles off the coast of North Carolina, a short distance for a seagull, this country might have been half a world away. It was a different culture, although my father was an American, I lived in a British culture with some American influences and spoke British English (American English is my second language). In that society one was always reminded of "their place" and mobility was limited by a variety of factors. My very British mother was raised in that system in her native England and escaped it after the Second World War. I was surrounded by members of both her and my fathers family and grew up biculturally speaking one language. I learned early on that although the language seemed the same, it was different, as the cultures also were.

It would be fair to say that growing up running barefoot on a rather idyllic beach island was a wonderful childhood. As I approached the age when I started thinking about high school and college I began to recognize my (and my cousins of the same age) opportunities were limited there. We all wanted the chance to go to better schools and universities than we could where we were. I didn't want to go to the UK or Canada, two of my three options, I always wanted to go to the United States of America. I explain this to make clear I was not an immigrant escaping from some poor, third world, strife ridden nation.

The dream was still the same regardless and it hasn't changed.

Every work day I come across immigrants who are taking one of the steps they need to be gain access to permanent residency or a long term visa into this country. Some are like I was, from English speaking nations, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and many former British colonies, with an American parent or spouse or are unconnected in any way except they want to come to America. There are also those that are ambitious, achievement oriented people who want to get out of, for any number of good reasons, from the nation they are from. The other day I was struck by the earnestness of an Egyptian who was extremely grateful for the help I gave him. After he discovered I once was a new immigrant, when thanking me, said a heartfelt "I know you truly understand." I do. Hours later I was overwhelmed by sentiment and recognition of how lucky I really am to be here. I know he'll make it, I'm sure he did well on his professional board certifications and all his other papers were in order, but most importantly he had the right attitude.

Even in an economic crisis, the rest of the world sees what some natural born Americans do not, there is still opportunity here. It is what you make of it, even if it isn't a mansion on the hill, it is still far better than a large part of the rest of the globe.

Lately I've been coming to see a sea change that a lot more natural born Americans are now re-acquainting themselves with and appreciating the achievement oriented, dream as big as you want to, entrepreneurial, "can do" spirit that this country represents to the rest of the world. The Land of Opportunity. I recognize many things have gone awry and we have a long road ahead of us to get back to where we were before we derailed ourselves. There are many people who are trapped and have obstacles that will be exceptionally difficult to overcome. Self-reliance and mutual help are not opposing American values. I still believe that for the vast majority of people in this country, the chance of rising above is still here.

It isn't always fair and somehow we lost our way several decades ago trying to make opportunity for people who had traditionally been discriminated against. With the best of intentions we created unintended consequences. As I wrote almost a year ago: "It also morphed into equal rights for everyone [that] has come to mean that everyone is equal in everything." What I am observing now is that the move away from that concept has become more than continental drift, but a tectonic plate shift with the potential for a good shaker to come along to wake everyone up to what we don't want to lose.

At stake is what our forefathers intended in rebelling against a regimented social structure divided by wealth, poverty, class, with rights that allow us to be free to become what we want to be, if we have the will and ability.

Being Bicultural: One Language
One of my first YouTube video blogs from the vault, done almost four years ago before I learned to edit. It is about my experience growing up in a bicultural environment learning British and American English.




  1. I read this post last night and wanted to say something, but wasn't sure what. Tonight, I am struck with the same feeling that I should let your words stand without comment. I won't do that but I should.

    You're right in saying that immigrants have a better perception of what America is than most American natives do. I think that's because immigrants have the "benefit" of being outside looking in, whereas natural-born citizens are just here. It's our world and we've always had it and it might be the best place in the world to be but we lack the perspective of the immigrant, and usually the drive to strive for greatness that a lot of immigrants seem to have. It sounds trite and insulting to the natural-born people of this nation but I have to say it: people are unlikely to work hard and dream and strive to get where they already are.

    I was born in the US and I like to think I appreciate that, if I don't act on every single opportunity it's afforded me by the luck of birth. I consider myself something akin to a hopeful immigrant right now, hoping that someday the country I live in will more greatly resemble the country I was taught about in school: the country where trying mattered, where games were scored, where you couldn't get away with not learning to spell, and where your mom and dad cared enough to teach you about life and didn't pawn the whole job off on the government.

    I still think that country is in us all somewhere. I think the factors that have tried to paint America as a bad place to be have been insiders for the most part. I think it's time to act like we are all immigrants and love this country for what it has given and will give us.

    We need to stop accepting any standards but the best. This is the best place on earth to live. We map the genomes AND Chuck Berry still plays live at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis. Let Argentina or anyplace else stack their stuff up against that. :)

    It's just another rambling response, but I am prone to them lately. Thanks for the post, and the chance to type way too much, JR!

  2. You write eloquently when you state "I still think that country is in us all somewhere...that the factors that have tried to paint America as a bad place to be have been insiders for the most part."

    That is so true. I haven't often wondered why some Americans themselves are so hard on America. I watched the video of the NPR execs at lunch with the "sting" Arab journalists dissing the tea partiers and elements of this country. What disgusted me though was their talking about
    "the smart people, the elites, the liberals know better," to paraphrase them while still using their own phrases. Calling everyone who didn't agree with them as dumb and uneducated.

    I think so many Americans have been fed these lines that they've come to believe them. On the other hand a lot have not and continue to believe although their are a lot of forces that put them down.

    Personally I don't think we will have to wait too much longer for us the country we "live in will more greatly resemble the country I was taught about in school: the country where trying mattered, where games were scored, where you couldn't get away with not learning to spell, and where your mom and dad cared enough to teach you about life and didn't pawn the whole job off on the government."

    Amen to that! Thanks for the great comment.