In The Name Of The Best Within You: An Immigrant’s Homage To The American People
On Aug. 11, 1985, at the age of 20, I boarded an Air Jamaica aircraft bound for Atlanta. Clutching the hand of my 72-year-old grandmother a little nervously, I was headed for what I still believe to be the greatest and most country on earth: the United States of America. Armed with $120, big dreams for my life and the love of my family, I blew a kiss to the throngs of onlookers in the old rundown wavers gallery who were waving crazily at everybody and nobody in particular — a hangover from the old colonial era — and never once looked back. A few hours later as a newly minted legal immigrant I made a covenant with my new country that in the name of the best and highest in me, I would seek faith in life’s better possibilities. That there would be no obstacles that my indefatigable spirit could not overcome, and that there would be no prejudice that a philosophy of individualism, which characterized the very essence of who I was at my core, could not transcend. This covenant spoke to the stupendous achievements I vowed to accomplish by taking advantage of the plethora of opportunities that I knew would become available to me. This was a moral contract I was making with my new country. It was an ethos of benevolence and goodwill that I would extend to my compatriots, and one that I expected to be reciprocated. The America I anticipated meeting, and the one I have come to know and love, is a country predicated on mutual exchange. I never looked back, and, indeed, fulfilled all of my goals including becoming the author of several books, earning four degrees including a doctorate and becoming a Distinguished Honors professor at a major university. America has brought me, now a proud citizen, to where I am.
If you show Americans respect, courtesy, basic warmth, and benevolence, then the majority of them — you, the American people, black, white, brown, yellow, or red — will basically respond in kind. Americans are a not formidable people. They are purposeful, driven, optimistic, and ambitious. Like me, the majority of them expect no special favors from anyone. In this covenant, I made a sacred decision never to give up the struggle to succeed; never to capitulate to cynicism and bitterness; never to see myself as anyone’s victim; to ask for help as little as possible (if I asked for any at all); and to never think that I was owed anything by anyone except to be left alone to pursue my dreams and cultivate my values and moral character. Thirty-two years later, I have never had to modify the covenant in any essential way. Its fundamentals remain the same. They are rooted in a highly individuated man who is an intransigent and rugged individualist, and whose proper posture is an upright one.
We live in an era of deep resentment, envy, and hatred of our great and noble nation. It has become fashionable within certain circles in the United States of America to malign our republic as an imperialist, racist, and white supremacist country that exploits its racial minorities and keeps them outside the pantheon of the human community and the domain of the ethical.
We live in the age of militant Americaphobia!
We live in an era when the most benevolent and moral country on earth, along with her exceptional people with their amazing optimism, cheerfulness, and can-do forthrightness, are resented as crass, shoddy, xenophobic, and in inevitable decline. Americans as a group of people are good people. But, hatred of the good for being the good, hatred for the best and noblest of virtues that reside within them has become a fashionable emotion among certain elitist groups who resent America and her people for such virtues. They resent America for the values forged in the crucibles of an unprecedented nation-state that has been a haven and a blessing for the talented, the strong, and the exceptional, but also for the poor, the benighted, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the dispossessed. We, the continuously aspiring human beings, whether we are Americans, or Americans-in-the-making, hear and respond to the quintessential elegiac American voice. It is an enticing one, at once soothing and inspiring, and it says: I am an open canvas. Write and enact your script on me. Without you and your story and your narrative, the story of America is incomplete. This is America, where you can suffuse the nation’s vast landscape with who you are and partake in a dialogue of national becoming.
By constitutional design, America is a place of universal belonging. It is the prototype of what a benevolent universe looks like because it is the first country, and, a fortiori, a phenomenal social experiment that explicitly rejects lineage and blood as criteria for membership and belonging. It celebrates civic nationalism in place of ethnic or cultural nationalism as the political principle that would forge a common identity among strangers and foreigners from disparate parts of the globe.
I remain convinced that America remains the best place for any legal immigrant to reside and, furthermore, that it is the safest and most benevolent home for a black man such as myself to call home. America’s greatest national treasure troves, I believe, are her people: her exceptional, non-xenophobic benevolent individuals who love immigrants who work hard and who expect nothing except the chance to prove themselves.
It is time to end the mean-spirited diatribe against our great republic and to celebrate the American Dream and America’s exceptional people. America works because her people are moral thrivers — filled with spirit, compassion and optimism. We are an unprecedented phenomenon and a shining example to the rest of the world.
Jason D. Hill is honors distinguished professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. His areas of specialization are ethics, social and political philosophy/American foreign policy, He is the author of several books, including “We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People,” published by Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.
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