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April 6th, 2009

Discovering Americans

Welcome to my blog, Ground One.

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

                I just returned from a reading at Aimee’s school. It was basically a debate about who really discovered America. The class is spinning off their unit on Native Americans to investigate immigration and all of its various incarnations. I’ve long wanted to write a book on immigration.

            It was a precious moment because all the six people debating—Aimee among them—are all either temporary residents of the U.S., or they have very interesting immigration stories themselves. In our family, we have a mother whose ancestors were on one of the first ships bound Westward, a father whose grandfather immigrated in the early 1900s through Ellis Island, a son who is American but who was born in Switzerland, and a daughter whose birth parents are Chinese, was born in China, with American adoptive parents, and who has been an American citizen since she was a toddler.

            To attend this lively debate, I left what I was working on my computer right as I was including a quote from Lyndon Johnson from 1968, speaking about Red Cross humanitarianism. “On every battlefield, a flag of mercy flies. Its white field bears a Red Cross—the universal symbol of human compassion. Under that flag, there are no enemies, no racial or religious animosities. There are only brothers.”

            It’s true of my work with the Red Cross that I now call friend a person from almost every country in the world. I’m blessed that way. But I’m bemused that people can’t see that we’re all the same even without knowing people from all walks of life, from every country.

            My daughter Aimee--while working on this very debate about immigration with her school mates from every corner of the globe--is still subjected to penetrating, often rude, questions. They roll off her back like rain off a duck. She’s resilient, and she wants to be liked. I’m more feline, and I get my mother cat’s fur ruffled. But when my ire lessens, I’m able to see the lesson in what these people ask or say.

            One Chinese American girl told Aimee that she wasn’t as Chinese as she herself was. Apparently that meant that Aimee is not Han, as her friend is. This friend ironically was born in the States, while Aimee was born right on the banks of the Pearl River near Nanjing. I don’t know how anyone can get more Chinese than that. It makes me sad that this kind of discrimination exists in an elementary school child, and it saddens me more that my daughter has to question who she is. When all she is—all we all are—is a person, a human being, an individual.

            Another child, American this time, told Aimee her parents probably gave her up because they needed to have another child who was a boy. Now, I’ve had this talk with Aimee, as I was certain the topic would come up. Yet it made me angry that people think they can predict why Aimee was left to be adopted, when we, as her parents, don’t have any idea. Women give their babies up for adoption for any number of reasons in developing countries and in developed countries, too.

            Back to the play. The play’s whole point was that if anyone discovered America it was the Native Americans. Yet even the Native Americans are on record as having come from Asia—in other words, immigrants of thousands of years ago. The nation’s first immigrants? Perhaps.

            Does it matter now? We’re here. We’re living together, working together, forming families together. Perhaps it’s time we concentrated more on our collective future than our disparate history.

            So my musings on who we are and where we come from and where we are going—as a nation, and as  humanity—continue. And I continue to hope that someday, everyone will realize that we are all from the same family, that we are indeed, one.