When I left the United States at the end of a brief holiday there in 2004 it was Independence Day. I was flying into Los Angeles with family on the way back to New Zealand and as I looked out the window there was this big fireworks display going on in the distance. We must have been nearing the end of it because just before it went out of view big red white and blue fireworks punctuated the clear night sky.
A symbol of unity on America’s national day. Of unity that 14 years later seems to be fraying at the edges in some alarming ways.
There is a quote about accepting refugees that is well known. This is something America has done gracefully in the past and grown rich and strong for it – and indeed some of the key figures of the early 20th Century who took refuge in America were refugees fleeing the rise of extremism in Germany and Italy: Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich and Enrico Fermi to name just a few.
Imagine if one of these three or anyone or more of the other many well known people who fled then, turning up on America’s border today? Would they be let in?
Even the most popular sports are becoming political battlegrounds. I did not follow Colin Kaepernick’s story as he dealt with the fallout from kneeling at the anthem, but I gathered enough to know that much deeper issues than whether or not Mr Kaepernick was being disrespectful are at play.
The divisiveness in America is as sad as it is frustrating. Why does everything have to turn into a political football? Why cannot that richly diverse tapestry of geography, ethnicities, culture and identity that covers 9,834,000km² of the world take a look around them and realize that things could be much worse – e.g., Yemen or Syria and be thankful for what they have?
There have been times when America had every reason to think it was the greatest nation on the planet. It was after all the arsenal of democracy in World War 2, supplying the arms necessary for the western allied nations to play their role in defeating Germany and Japan. When that ended America had at its disposal the means to develop commercial aviation, it had a film industry that was about to see its golden days and iconic items such as Coca Cola, the Mustang (car, not the piston engine fighter)and many more were soon to see their heyday. Its influence was unmatched. Musical legends like Jefferson Airplane, John Denver, among others had their moments in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
And all the while it continued to be a graceful receiving host for refugees from Vietnam, and other conflict zones. Alongside the nationalities who had fled from Europe during World War 2, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and other nationalities from Asia alongside Latin American nations such as Cuba, Colombia, and others became established. I look at the photos of my Peruvian friends living in Los Angeles and always admire the range of nationalities that they have come to know.
Which is why the decline of a nation that – despite it starting many of the wars those refugees came from – has contributed so much positively to the world is so sad. To have corporate media sowing fear and distrust of minorities; to sign huge arms deals almost as big as the New Zealand economy with nations that are committing war crimes in other countries
But on 04 July 2018, can Americans come together and celebrate being citizens – young and old/new and native – of the great nation of the United States of America? Without the division, the fear, the hate? I certainly hope so.