(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on November 23, 1995)
She asked me if I loved this country and I thought this was clearly understood. She suggested I have “an obsession” with the Hispanic community, and again I thought everyone knew that writing about Latinos is my assignment here. She seemed disturbed by my offering an opinion, and I had assumed everyone understood that this is what a columnist does.
A reader was on the telephone wailing about my column, and I was reminded that when minorities complain about anti-immigrant sentiments, civil rights violations, efforts to thwart our political empowerment, we may give the impression we are ungrateful.
When foreign-born Americans try to preserve our language and culture, when we refuse to cut the umbilical cords to our homelands — and especially when we write about immigrants for a newspaper — somehow, some people assume we are being un-American. But today is an appropriate time to set the record straight for my caller and others who may be tired of listening to minorities whining for equal treatment in this society.
They should know that on Thanksgiving Day, most immigrants give thanks for the opportunities we have enjoyed here — which so many native-born Americans take for granted — and for the privilege of living in the greatest nation in the world — myself included.
Today, in immigrant homes throughout this country, there will be many expressions of gratitude and many ways to say thanks, and they will be heartfelt and sincere.
Perhaps we should not wait to do this only on Thanksgiving. Maybe we should tone down the whining and devote more time to expressing the things we feel on this day of atonement. Maybe this is the way to make mean-spirited immigrant-bashers see that the people they are persecuting exemplify the patriotic principles — the love for this country — they claim to be defending.
Ironically, many of the American “patriots” who won't let us forget that we are foreigners are the same people who insist that we refuse to assimilate. But maybe our reconciliation can make them see that theirs is “an unhealthy form of nationalism” which, according to Pope John Paul II, is “the antithesis of true patriotism.”
Perhaps better than some native-born Americans, most immigrants know the difference between true patriotism, which, according to the pope, “is a proper love of one's country” that “never seeks to advance the well-being of one's own nation at the expense of others,” and unhealthy nationalism, “which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures.”
After all, it was those radical forms of nationalism that drove many immigrants here. When we give thanks today, it will be for the freedom of religion, expression, and opportunity that many immigrants never enjoyed in their own countries — and many native-born Americans take for granted.
This is the reason why immigrants identify so well with the Pilgrims — perhaps better than Americans who know of such persecution because it was experienced by their ancestors many generations ago. Many of us fled religious persecution, totalitarian regimes, economic privation, drug-related violence, and other degrading human conditions that pale in comparison to the hardships we suffer here.
That doesn't mean we should dissolve into the melting pot and forget our language, traditions, and culture. It doesn't mean we should ignore the contributions of our own ancestors, such as the Spanish settlers who celebrated Thanksgiving here long before the Pilgrims.
That's another column — for tomorrow's paper. For now, my caller — and others who assume we are ungrateful — should know that perhaps immigrants don't express our gratitude more often because anything we say about this great nation would be an understatement.