A few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker on a red pickup that said: “American by birth. Proud by choice!” I am very happy to say that I am: “Proud by birth. American by choice!”
On this Veterans Day, following so closely on the heels of an election in which so many issues seemed to hinge on what being American means to me, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to my fellow citizens for ratifying my choice through their tens of millions of votes.
I suspect that there were vast numbers who felt as I did at times these past several months: that so many of the issues of this election were swirling around me personally:
1. I have been a small business owner for twenty years.
2. I have been a teacher, at levels from middle school to graduate school.
3. I am a Vietnam veteran.
4. And before I was any of those things, I was an immigrant to the United States at the age of 15.
1. The President has made a commitment to our small businesses – not “small” as classified by the GOP, to denote their fundraising base that contributes millions to political campaigns, but real small businesses. For me, that means those for whom the President’s middleclass tax cut (the one that Republicans threaten to hold hostage on behalf of the top 1%) represents a major savings. Helping the middle class will fuel the recovery of our economy from the Great Recession, which was brought about by a quarter century of tax and financial regulation policies designed to benefit huge corporations and their owners, but which destroyed our middle class as collateral damage.
2. Our President campaigned often on the need to improve our educational system, a need upon which our future as a global economic leader relies. Such improvement includes the need for greater access for all Americans to affordable college education. But it also includes greater investment in public education from kindergarten through high school, investment that we have seen state after state under GOP governors hack away at, with thousands of teachers laid off, courses abandoned and class sizes expanded. I have never in my life worked harder, or under greater stress, than in my career as a public school teacher. Yet conservatives argue that cutting teacher salaries will not hurt public education. And these people claim to understand something about economics? We need more teachers and better pay for teachers, to attract the best we can.
3. I watched this morning as President Obama spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. He spoke of the debt to our veterans that our country will always honor. This speech, underlining his reelection earlier this week, seemed to reaffirm that our nation’s commitment to our veterans is one with which the Democratic Party will always keep faith. His promise to ensure that our veterans will not go jobless or homeless must be kept. He has already ended a war in Iraq that added too many to our veterans’ hospitals and cemeteries, and he promises soon to end the war in Afghanistan. As a Vietnam veteran, I can only pray that my country will eventually learn not to generate disabled veterans in pointless wars.
4. Finally, it is likely that none of the above would have meaning for me had my parents not immigrated to the US when I was 15. We must keep a promise to our immigrants, of all colors and languages, who have always been a major engine of our progress, in ideas and innovation and in economic growth. In this recent election, second generation and first generation Americans like my children, along with naturalized Americans like myself, stood up and said that we will not be ignored, and that the current and future contributions of immigrants must be acknowledged and accepted, not spurned and threatened with the deportation of family members.
Today is Veterans Day, to honor those who have given so much for our country. I would like to propose another holiday to honor another group to whom we owe so much, a group that includes the vast majority of Americans or at least one of their parents, grandparents or great grandparents: Immigrants Day. Without them, most of us (even Native Americans, who often have a non-Native American ancestor) would not be what we are.
This is my country. I am so proud of it. I am so proud of my American children. And, this week, I am so proud of my fellow American citizens.