Our VoiceImmigration

Fourth of July Then and Now

Guest Blogger • Jul 05, 2010

When I was growing up in a small town in Illinois during the Eisenhower administration, Fourth of July was pure and simple: the children decorated our bikes and tricycles with red, white, and blue crepe paper to ride around the flagpole in the center of town.  A Republican politician would remind us to be grateful that we lived in America so we could see these beautiful children on their bicycles, because if we lived in Red Russia we would see tanks rolling down our streets!

We revered Abraham Lincoln, who saved the Union and freed the slaves and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had saved Europe from Fascism and was fighting a Cold War against the Godless Communists.  Then all the kids got small cups of vanilla ice cream with little wooden spoons.

Every politician from President Eisenhower to the village clerk was white, male, middle-aged, and Protestant.  Virtually every father was a veteran of World War II and every mother was a full-time homemaker.  Our church was like a pale Noah’s Ark: only white heterosexual couples with 2-4 children.  The group for adults was called the “Parish Pairs.”  I did not know any adult who was divorced, unemployed, or openly gay.  The only adult women I knew who worked were school teachers  and Mrs. Mooney who ran the candy store selling penny candies like Lik-m-Ade, candy cigarettes, and those little pastel dots on strips of white paper.

It was easy to love our country in a time of peace and prosperity.  We were bathed in the warm bath of conformity and, honestly, it was a wonderful time and place to grow up.

But time moves on.  Every element of my life is much more diverse and much more interesting now.  On July 3, my Chicago church sent off a terrific group of high school students to do a service project in Kentucky.  The young people were white, Asian, and African-American, from homes with one parent, two parents, or multiple parents and step-parents in a blended family.  They were sent off from a mass in the parking lot with people from two years old to 85 years old.   Today the congregation is gay and straight; married, committed, divorced, and single; all income levels, and all political views.  We are in the heart of the bluest city in a blue state, but there are plenty of red Republicans who can hold their own in any debate.

When I was in high school the farthest my high school church group went was about ten miles in order to go to the roller skating rink.  Now teens go to another state 300 miles away and repair houses with very low income people in Appalachia.  These people will be very different from the neighbors they know in Lincoln Park in Chicago.  They are going to learn new songs, new prayers, new challenges, and new skills.   God willing, they will grow up to be  adults who can never be swayed by the anti-immigrant voices such as the John Tanton Network who want others to live, work, worship, and vote based on fears of people who are different than themselves.

On the Fourth of July the Chicago History Museum always does a reading of the Declaration of Independence.  For the 234th time, patriots heard the words,  “We hold these truths to be self-evident,  that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”   I am proud to live in a country based on the idea that all people have value.  While growing up in an extremely homogeneous hometown was fine for the fifties, I am much happier in the 21st Century to live in a community that thrives on variety, tolerance, and curiosity.  There are anti-immigration leaders who would like to go back to the old days and the old ways, but most people, especially younger people, are eager to move ahead to a more diverse and tolerant nation.  I believe that the real Americans who still say that all people are created equal will win, and that’s one reason why I still love my country.

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