What is it about the human condition that makes so many of us unwilling to share? It shows up in small ways, “I don’t want to pay taxes so old people can stay healthy”, “I don’t want to pay more for my health insurance (pennies) so women can have birth control medication”, or “I refuse to use public transportation like my grandparents did, even to save the planet.” Throughout history, in almost every country, it has evinced itself in wars, revolts, genocide, slavery, or a combination of the above.
My childhood helped frame my views on life as I fell in love with history, devoured books, and happily took as many history/political science classes as possible. As I have listened to recent views on this country, read tropes that keep turning up on line, and most recently listened to my daughter read from an article that put it all in a nutshell…this country was built by slaves, beautified by latinos, and over the backs of indigenous people. Most of our history concerning native Americans is egregious, from introducing illnesses (perhaps unknowingly) to deliberate annihilation of entire villages for the specific purpose of taking over the land they had traversed and lived on for
centuries. I have no answer for what should have been done to create an amicable land sharing future, but we are where we are and need to go on from there while honoring and assisting our Indigenous population. On to the rest of that stated premise, slavery enriched the south and arguably the east coast. However, many Northern citizens, following the revolution, saw slavery as oppression similar to British oppression and were anti slavery, if not outright abolitionists. Northern agriculture was not dependent on slavery, although during colonial years indentured servants (often poor people from the slums of Europe in hope of a better life) were utilized, and , yes, brutalized.
This country is far more massive than the east coast and southern states. Even as the population moved across this abundant land mass, sharing was not on their agenda. It was not just the displacement of Native Americans, cattle ranchers burned out and killed sheep ranchers. Farmers were harassed and their land trampled because they built fences. Sharing the fruitful land was anathema to those who got there “first” and felt they should have access to the entire area. Throughout history much of mankind has embraced the mantra “might makes right”, and power rarely shares willingly.
As per Latino’s beautifying the country, it was already steeped in beautiful mountains, rivers, waterfalls and meadows. Oh, you mean they worked on peoples gardens? That is a job, like building houses, or perhaps building railroads under horrendous conditions as
our Chinese and Irish immigrants were forced to do to survive…or sometimes not. That would be the railway that helped to open up the west and made greater travel possible for everyone.
Discrimination was rampant in this country throughout it’s history. No Polish allowed, or Italians, or Jews. Those signs were everywhere during the mid eighteen hundreds, following any big wave of immigrants trying to escape poverty or oppression. Each of these immigrants contributed to the culture and tone of our country as they grew in strength and “assimilated”. And don’t get me started on the plight of women!
Of course there was the lesson of WWII, where our Japanese Americans, some who had been here for generations, were incarcerated and stripped of the homes and lives for which they had worked so hard. Yet they emerged from such mistreatment and put their mark on the country as Chefs, gardeners, writers, journalists, actors and so much more. Following the war, (in which all peoples took part albeit not in an equal or appreciated way), the great interstate system envisioned by FDR, and created under Eisenhower, was
accomplished by workers in every state, which meant they were undoubtedly a mix of ethnicity and cultural backgrounds.
The point is, everyone who has been born in this country, everyone who has immigrated to this country, has been a part of our development and growth as a nation for better or worse. It is, of course, necessary for some groups to remind the country of their presence and contributions toward the whole. We need to be aware, unfortunately, of a large portion of the populace that would prefer not to share the bounty of our land, or the hope of our forefathers. But, as the saying goes, words matter. Don’t claim you built the nation. It is bigger than one group, one ethnicity, or one religion. We have a rich history that includes a wide variety of contributors – the good, the bad and the ugly! State your antecedents contributions, by all means. But make it a shared statement: we contributed to the growth of this (once) great country, and have a right to share in its success. (Assuming, of course, that the country survives the present division tearing us apart, because too many citizens are reluctant to open their hearts, their minds, their souls to sharing, and therefore prospering in more ways than just “filthy lucre”.)
I love all of the disparate cultural influences, all the puzzle pieces, that have been a part of our journey as a country – from the dark underworld to the wonderful points of light along the way. I have felt the influence of many cultures in my life. I have read volumes regarding our rich, multicolored, nuanced history – from the deep depths of past inhumanity (true of almost every nation), to the movement and progress toward better futures for all that we keep striving to achieve. Everyone has contributed, everyone must keep contributing. As you go on, insist on fairness, equality and justice. Just remember – we are all in this ship of state, we have all contributed, and words truly do matter. Live, love, laugh and use your speech freely, while keeping in mind that words are important, and how you say something influences how people hear it.