I am of immigrant stock, but, for that matter, so is everyone including Indians. My father walked a thousand miles from Russia to Rumania in order to escape death, and he wound up on a ship that took him around Africa to America while living in steerage. When I was a small boy he would take me for walks in Crotona Park in the Bronx at a time when people of all political, social, and religious views would be talking. As we walked, he would mumble, “America, America, it is a wonderful country. Here a man can speak his mind.” My father had no education and spent his life running hole-in-the-wall butcher shops. During the Depression, he would give people food on credit while my mother ranted and raged. She forced him to write down in a book the names of those who owed him money. Shortly before he died, I asked him: “Poppa, whatever happened to the book?” She shrugged his head and told me he threw it away without telling my mother.
I have heard variations of my father’s story throughout my life. They came from poor whites, blacks, Hispanics, drunks, hard working farmers, women of the night, and God knows who else. We Americans come from every corner of planet Earth, and we come in all sizes, colors, financial backgrounds and working skills. We are simply people of this planet who happened, in one way or another, to wind up in America. We are of legal or illegal backgrounds or were born here. I find it amusing to hear people rant about illegal immigrants. How many illegal immigrants do you think came to America?
I have spent time in England, Germany, and France. I must confess to a deep love of Great Britain because I understand how much of my political ideas come from that nation. I do know whenever I am in another country and meet an American, an instant bond of friendship emerges because we share a heritage and memories. Who are we Americans?
Many eighteenth and nineteenth Europeans looked across the Atlantic to America as something special. For a few years, Karl Marx was the European correspondent of the New York Tribune and his columns about the Civil War era reflect a hope that an America was being born that would be different from European nations. He saw no need for Americans to rebel against capitalism because their history was so different and the concept of aristocracy was absent from its past.
However, something happened to this nation during the past half century. We became caught up in the selfishness of people like Ronald Reagan or those like Ron Paul who preached the idea of only be concerned for the self. The gap between poor and wealthy reached heights never before known in our history. In 1800, Americans were probably the healthiest people in the world–as well as being the tallest. Today, several nations have surpassed us in height and our health is declining. We reject the logical idea of national health insurance, we reject the idea of free colleges (I attended City College of New York which was free) and the latest figure reveals among those 18-28, Europeans have surpassed us in the percent who have post secondary degrees.
I still believe in the dream of America. The dream of creating a society in which poverty is abolished. The dream of ending all forms of hate and discrimination. The dream of actually being able to become president of the USA without being wealthy or dependent on those with wealth. I recently have been reading extensively into the life of Abraham Lincoln. With each passing year, Lincoln rises in our estimation of leadership. Thank God he never went to college to get his mind twisted by academic jargon, thank God he never worked on Wall Street and became fixated by the need for great wealth, thank God, he had office hours in which any citizen could see him and discuss problems. As long as we have an Abraham Lincoln in our history, we can be proud that we gave the world something good.
Father Abraham, we are coming.