Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

We can work it out

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

I began this blog in the spirit of celebration of the astonishing array of immigrant cultures that thrive in New York City. It’s not simply the different foods, customs, and architecture that we can experience as home-town tourists; it’s the people to whom their culture means something who make it live and breathe. The neighborhoods I visit are more or less enclaves—though often enclaves interwoven with each other—where new American residents can feel that they belong, and they don’t have to wonder whether they’re doing it right. This feeling of certainty fortifies our souls.

So when I try to understand the point of view of those who feel threatened by immigrants, I imagine that their towns—especially small towns where nearly everyone shares the same background—offer the same sense of certainty as an enclave. And that when seemingly all of a sudden the population starts swelling with people who speak another language, it may feel like an attack on your shared values, your certainty, your security. And there may be real problems, culture clashes, competition for jobs. Lifelong residents have concerns and deserve to be listened to, just like lifelong New Yorkers whose neighborhoods are gentrifying and feel their sense of community threatened. But if we focus on the problems themselves—rather than pledging allegiance to us versus them—we can find solutions.

We are rewarded by a richer world. Whether I’m weaving down the sidewalks of Chinese Flushing, buying Lebanese olive oil in Bay Ridge, or enjoying tacos in Corona—or merging with the Yemeni bodega owners rallying at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, above—I’m cheered by how much we have in common as ordinary humans. It’s not my culture, but I am treated with courtesy. These are all my neighbors, and if I want this to be a neighborly world, it’s up to me to stand with them. Love wins. If it doesn’t, what kind of home are we left with?

American growth

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

According to Liz Robbins in the New York Times, New York City has a three-month program that helps immigrants adapt their farming experience to their new home. She talks to Jacob Okam, who is growing Nigerian vegetables on a plot leased from Kean University in New Jersey. He is thankful for the kind of assistance he didn’t receive in Nigeria, and says: “If I put the two things together, if I take the good part of America and what I inherited, then I will move forward.”

I can’t think of a better way to express what I consider the American ideal—not only how immigrants can thrive, but how immigration can continue to enrich the United States and help us grow in ways we certainly could not if we were to close our borders.

Happy Independence Day to all—and courage and strength to everyone still fighting for it.

We’re all Irish today?

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

I’ve been thinking about St. Patrick’s Day and wondering why it’s such a big observance in the United States, and I found this piece by Peter Behrens in the New York Times to be interesting. He reviews the unwelcome faced by Irish immigrants in the 1840s—one of the first groups considered dark and unworthy of this great country, yet now a part of America that is not only embraced but embraced with a big beery hug. “This March 17,” he writes, “on this side of the water, we ought to be celebrating immigration, not Irishness.”

Just a word about that Islamic center

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Let’s try to calm down and remember a few things:

  • No one is proposing to build a mosque “on top of Ground Zero.” The actual World Trade Center site belongs, emotionally, to the American public and would not be an appropriate place for a mosque—or for a church of any denomination.  But exactly how many blocks away is it no longer hallowed ground?
  • The organizers of the group who want to build the Park51 Islamic center and mosque did not choose the site for its proximity to Ground Zero. They chose it for its proximity to the people they are serving, who happen to be Islamic New Yorkers. The neighborhood is already their home.
  • Some Americans may see 9/11 as the event that defines Muslims, but most Muslims do not see 9/11 as their defining event. So for those who take the plans as a slap in their face, it wasn’t meant that way.

If you’re a Christian, you have reason to have faith in the power of love, or I’ve been completely misled about the New Testament. So let’s love our neighbors a little bit, for Christ’s sake.