Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where Do You Live?

The future will be different if we make the present different.

Peter Maurin
I remember Montauk. Several times I worked at the John Drew Theatre in East Hampton, New York and during one of those times a friend came out to see the show. While he was there we drove out to Montauk, which is at the far eastern end of Long Island. It is almost surrounded by water. Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean meet at that point. There is no other land in sight.

The tide was out. I stood on the pebbles at the beach and stared out to sea. I had the unusual sensation that the entire nation of the United States of America was behind me. My country was literally behind my back. My mind went out to embrace it. Besides China and Russia there is no civilization as complex as the United States. But my embrace did no stop at border lines.

I read recently that in England they do not consider Canadian soccer players Americans. That's plain silly, as far as I can tell. Canada is a nation in the North American continent, of course they're Americans. We live in the Western Hemisphere, North America, Central America and South America, which means that the Inuits of Nunavut, the natives living on the far off remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska, the Norwegian farmer in Minnesota, the Italian restaurant owner in New York, the Louisiana Cajun, the Puerto Rican, the Haitian, the Cuban, the Panamanian and all the way down to the Argentinean are all Americans.

Sixth Avenue in New York City used to be known as Avenue of the Americas and still is to some degree. The reason it was called that was because there were plaques hanging from posts along the Avenue with the seals of the various Western Hemisphere countries that belong to the United Nations.

One summer day I was on a break from rehearsal in midtown. I went out to enjoy the sun and bought my Sabrett's hot dog and a can of Coke. I was on Sixth Avenue and near me a temporary wooden platform had been erected. A string was tied to the rail and extended up to a bag which was wrapped around one of those plaques. Soon two limos drove up and four men in suits got out, three black men and one white man, and ascended the steps to the platform.

The white man spoke first, identified himself as being from the mayor's office and introduced one of the other men who was a part of the United States consulate to the UN, he spoke for a bit then introduced the new permanent Representative to the UN from the nation of Barbados. That man spoke for a moment and then introduced the Prime Minister of Barbados (no less) who pulled the string and the bag dropped uncovering the plaque with the seal of Barbados gleaming in the sunlight.

The Prime Minister spoke with his cultivated Caribbean accent and I remember him saying that it was a beautiful day in New York City but in February, when the cold winds are blowing and the snow is falling. to think about coming down to gambol on the white and sandy beaches of Barbados. He was a charming man.

"Gambol" is a grand word. It means to cavort, to romp, to frolic. I can easily picture myself frolicking on his "white and sandy beaches."

The last time I looked the plaques were all removed from Sixth Avenue. I don't know why but it's quite likely because some idiots were throwing rocks and bottles at the Cuban or Nicaraguan signs.

I'm not against borders, they can help to define cultural and historical traditions. I am against barriers. I'm not against immigration, it has been helping to shape and enhance western civilization for hundreds of years. I am against illegal immigration. I am not against multiculturalism and multilingualism, it creates a broader spectrum of art and ideas and aids in articulating and understanding human life. I am against those who say it's "globaloney" and who practice the weak and limiting exercise of exclusivity for fear of losing their own traditions.

Spanish is the major language of America. English is the second language. English speaking Americans must make room for Spanish just as Spanish speaking people have made room for English. We are a multilingual hemisphere, but we are all Americans.

I may be the only person in the western world who thinks this way but I long for the day when the barriers come down and when we all start thinking of ourselves as Americans first and citizens of the United States, or whatever country we live in, second. At the very least we must stop thinking of other people in the Americas as foreigners. And when disaster strikes a poor relation such as what happened to Haiti or in the Gulf of Mexico, all America rushes to help.

I'm sick of hearing compassionless rhetoric and muddy minded finger pointing about evil and sin. I am against the nasty, dystopian hatred, cynicism and suspicion of the judgmental and self righteous. It's limited thinking that makes limitations.

I am alarmed that my part of America has been off fighting useless wars in Asia under the fraudulent excuse of defense. A grandly diverse but unified America, from Canada to Brazil would be not only the best defense on this space ship but also the key to demonstrating how real peace is to be accomplished on it. What an opportunity not to waste! Impractical? So was going to the moon. So was the transcontinental railroad. So was the Declaration of Independance.

Is there antagonism against the United States? Of course there is. But it is possible, if we really wanted to, to find out what it is about and start straightening out the misunderstandings on both sides. There is no overnight solution. But a commitment to America first can be made now, today, if we want a future. It's necessary, it's vital, it's inevitable.

"Let there be peace in the world and let it begin with me."

Dana Bate
The Vagabond


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Interesting. When I think of an American, I do not think of Canada or Latin America. Not sure if we will ever get the same thinking of America as there is in Europe and Asia.

pacifica62 said...

I would concede to being called a North American or described as being from the Americas, but I would feel very, very nervous about being called an "American". That is why I travel wearing a maple leaf and why I carry a Canadian Passport. Before 9/11 the 49th parallel was just a long undefended border. Since 9/11 it has become a barrier. Spanish and English are major languages in North America but so is French and Canada is a bilingual country. I also do not expect our immigrants to assimilate into the Canadian way of life and I do respect them retaining their own culture, traditions and language. As much as I would like to see your dream of one America come true, I can just not see that happening in the near distant future or maybe even in my lifetime. Our countries are not the same, our people are not the same, our values and ethics are not all the same. Sure there are similarities and sure there is plenty to build on. I am just not ready to be swallowed up by the United States of America in the creation of this unifed America. It is a fear shared by many north of the border.

DB said...

Thank you Pacifica. In a unified America there could be no swallowing up, there are just too many diverse cultures and traditions, just as there are many languages: French in Canada and the Caribbean, Portuguese in Brazil, dialects and languages every where. There has to be a unifed culturte in the United States in order to do any swallowing up, and there isn't. Sad to say many people in the U. S. have an arrogant attitude about what makes an American.

A unified America is a long way off, perhaps a centruy, maybe not, but I began it today.


Beth said...

I get what you are saying, Dana. It's easy to forget (or some would ignore) the fact that we are one of the Americas, not the ONLY America. Perhaps one day we can look at ourselves as a continent rather than a collection of countries. Great post!