Out of many, one
Jordan Ryan | Thursday, September 1, 2016
I was blessed to have been raised in a community with significant ethnic diversity. In fact, this past summer, two of my closest friends became United States citizens. This process, which took months to complete, culminated in an inspiring ceremony during which they, their families and other newly minted citizens recited the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Reflecting on the paths taken by my friends, and especially their parents, I realize the obstacles they’ve had to confront on their way to citizenship and cultural integration. They attended citizenship classes, learned English and adopted often peculiar American customs as their own, all in the interest of fitting in and feeling as if they belong in America. In short, assimilation was and remains their top priority. They desperately want to become Americans.
We now find ourselves in the midst of a morally legitimate debate focusing on multiculturalism versus assimilation. The preservation and even promotion of multiculturalism in America is an important component of what defines Americans. However, in the rush to fulfill what may be perceived as a politically correct mission of promoting multiculturalism, we must guard against those who, for illegitimate purposes, are resisting the positive unifying influences of assimilation.
For those of us who are third, fourth or even fifth generation Americans, we’ve been raised in an environment filled with what should be the unifying values of America: equality of opportunity, adherence to the rule of law, a deeply embedded work ethic and a deep respect for individual rights and liberties. Of course, we never had to assimilate into this culture. It’s part of our DNA. Ironically, however, many Americans have lost sight of the unifying values of these cultural similarities, values which are often more strongly embraced by immigrants. In many respects, immigrants act more “American” than do many Americans. This unfortunately is especially true of many who have assumed political and other leadership positions.
We now regrettably live in an era characterized by the politics of division. We’ve forgotten how to celebrate, appreciate or even tolerate one another’s differences. The debate which continues between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter is a stark demonstration of the erosion of the fundamental belief that Americans all share common goals and aspirations. The Hispanic population has been especially victimized by this political game of divisiveness resulting from the ongoing debate over our nation’s immigration policy.
We now run the risk of losing our unified national identity because of the intentional fragmentation of our population. Politicians, professional agitators and others, looking for political and financial gain, promote racial and political divide. In the blind pursuit of votes or profit, we are all being neatly classified and segmented as white, black, Latino, Asian, men, women, straight, gay, young, old, progressive, conservative, high income, low income, or other overly simplified labels. It is simply wrong to pit these groups against one another, especially for political gain.
We similarly cannot substitute the need for national unification in the interest of political correctness or a blind reverence for multiculturalism. As Abraham Lincoln so appropriately observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The time has come for us to embrace and even celebrate our differences in the context of recognizing that there are not countless Americas, one for each group labeled by some politician. There is but one United States of America and we are all Americans.
We ask that immigrants coming to America assimilate or integrate into our culture by adapting their way of life to ours in order to achieve a sense of belonging or feeling part of a greater society. In reality, every American could do a better job of assimilating into our society. We need to regain our sense of unification while preserving our diverse cultural contributions. Slicing and dicing America in order to create social unrest and class resentment serves no legitimate purpose. We need to refer to ourselves as Americans before any other descriptor. The lessons of our founding fathers cost but a penny as the phrase“E Pluribus Unum” is inscribed on every cent — “out of many, one.” We are and shall remain a nation of many, and from those many, we must become one. America needs to reject the smallness of the politics of division and rediscover the pride in being simply an American. Only by taking these steps can we begin to address the self-inflicted wounds created by our present social conflicts.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.