Here at home, all Americans must be able to appreciate and value one another’s differences – these are what make us unique among nations. The United States is one of the few nations built almost exclusively upon immigration. With the exception of Native Americans, everyone else in the U.S. is either a recent immigrant or the descendent of recent immigrants. Yet from this mix of cultures, religions, and nationalities, the United States emerged as one nation. It is from this history that our national motto “E Pluribus Unum”, meaning “Out of many, One” emerged. It may be difficult from our era to recall the prejudice and discrimination earlier Americans had against the Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews, and Catholics. Yet not too long ago in the U.S., businesses posted signs that read ‘No Irish need apply’, and the KKK targeted Catholics, Irish, and African-Americans. Immigrants from Western and Eastern Europe clashed, as did immigrants from Northern and Southern Europe. And of course, the US had waves of immigrants from China and the Pacific Rim, Latin America, and other countries. Baptist mistrusted Methodist, who mistrusted Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Almost every Christian denomination mistrusted the other, to the point that inter-denominational marriages would rip families apart. Family members would even refuse to speak with one another if one married a person of another Christian denomination. The U.S. has come a long way in not just tolerating but in accepting and celebrating both our religious diversity as well as our cultural diversity. Today no one thinks anything of a descendent of Irish Catholics marrying a descendent of Scottish Presbyterians. No violence ensues, and no one is written out of the family. Catholics can run for office in any state and get elected, as can Mormons or Baptist. We have made great strides and have much to be proud about.
Just like our religious diversity, our nation has much cultural diversity, even within one region of the country and even within one state. Our Native American brothers and sisters have a great and proud heritage, as do African-Americans, Latino-Americans and others. It is not helpful to only be aware of the struggles of our own ethnic group if we remain ignorant of how our brothers and sister Americans have struggled. These struggles made them who they are today and only by being aware of what they have been through are we able to understand and appreciate them today. We can and should take great pride in learning about the unique challenges our American brothers and sisters have struggled with and overcome. The history of various cultural and ethnic American groups are filled with inspiring stories of struggle, sacrifice and bravery that all contribute to who we are as a nation today. We must never belittle or attack one another for celebrating or taking pride in these sacrifices and struggles. It is not divisive to celebrate (for example) African-American history because African-American history is part of America’s history. America would not be the America we know today without African-American history. It is unkind and divisive to fail to recognize and appreciate the stories of all of our American brothers and sisters. Be curious about the history and stories of all American peoples. The United States has not always treated all of its people right, and consequently, we often have different perspectives on what it means to be an American. Even our experiences today as Americans may be different. We can best understand our fellow American’s perspectives when we study history through one another’s eyes.
Let’s say this again: We can best understand our fellow American’s perspectives when we study history through one another’s eyes.
It is important to better understand where we as a nation – like all nations – have failed to live up to our ideals in the past so we can see the impact of the past on the present, and also so we can work to avoid repeating those mistakes in the future. We must not learn a lazy, easy history of the U.S. that whitewashes the history we don’t like, or that does not fit into a superficial patriotic narrative of what the U.S. is like. Only by learning all aspects of our nations history, including its treatment of those it has viewed as ‘other’, can we learn to understand our fellow citizens perspective on our nation and on ourselves. Being curious and accepting of our fellow citizens helps us learn about them and helps them learn about us. In this way we can learn to better love one another and to better see them as fellow citizens whom we can show grace and love towards.