Jul 042019
On Independence Day 2019, What Makes America Great?

Walking into this Fourth of July, at least 2,700 families from Central America have been separated at our nation’s border. Children are suffering in cages – cages – sleeping on concrete floors without access to basic needs like fresh water and food. Nine people have died in the care of, or in confrontation with, Border Patrol.

I will not love you into mediocrity; I will love you into greatness.

I love our country, but I’m not a fool. Blind patriotism without critique makes us enablers that cripple, instead of perfect, the republic. My stance toward America is like that of an uncle or auntie who is hard on you about your grades, your friends and your significant other. We are family. You are mine. I will not love you into mediocrity; I will love you into greatness.

Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and former enslaved American

In that spirit, one of my favorite Fourth of July activities is to pull out Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech given in 1852 to an anti-slavery society in Rochester, NY. Douglass’s critique of America’s clashing ideals and reality is the ultimate tough love message: “Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.” We could easily apply his words to the plight of migrants today. Parents, as a gauge of age-appropriateness, I discovered this speech when I was eight years old. It’s long, but it’s a great read.

ScaryMommy.com posted an article “Here Is What You Can DO To Help Detained Migrants NOW” with specifics on how to support the work of groups like RAICES, who are fighting to free the people imprisoned at the border. We can love America into its aspirational greatness and it’s a moral imperative that we try.

I leave you with two wonderful poems by great American poets, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. McKay was a migrant to the United States from Jamaica. Hughes was born in Missouri.

AMERICA by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.*
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

*This is my favorite line

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean-
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home-
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

O, let America be America again –
The land that never has been yet –
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME –
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath –
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain –
All, all the stretch of these great green states –
And make America again


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