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Nation of Neighbors

Natalia J. Garland

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America is often referred to as a Nation of Immigrants. This motto seems to be in recognition of the immigrant workforce, immigrant academic and artistic contributions to American society, and in recognition that most American families have foreign origins. There are other groups of Americans, however, who do not fit into the category of immigrant. What about the Native Americans who were here before the Europeans, the African Americans who were brought to America involuntarily, Americans who are descendants of immigrants but who have lived in America for several generations now, and Americans who have a multiracial or multicultural background? Nation of Immigrants is not really all-inclusive.

This essay is divided into two parts. The first part covers my efforts to get responses from the Democratic presidential candidates. The second part contains my own ideas on an alternative motto to Nation of Immigrants.

Democratic Presidential Candidates

To get some ideas about my Nation of Immigrants question, I decided to e-mail the major Democratic presidential candidates. I sent the following e-mail to the these candidates: Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Lieberman, Carol Mosely-Braun, Al Sharpton, and I also included Ralph Nader.

Dear [Candidate's Team],
I am inquiring about [Candidate's Name] views on the concept that America is a "Nation of Immigrants." Although I appreciate this as a concept, and I realize the contributions of immigrants, I wonder how Native Americans and African Americans fit into this concept. Native Americans were already here, and African Americans were brought over by force. I also wonder how Americans fit into this concept after they have lived in America for several generations. I am not anti-immigrant; I am simply searching for a concept that would more clearly include all Americans.
Natalia J. Garland

I sent the e-mails on 01/10/04 and 01/11/04, with the exception of Al Sharpton's which I sent on 01/15/04. I received automated responses from the Howard Dean campaign and the John Kerry campaign on 01/10/04. I received a personal response from the John Kerry campaign on 01/12/04, a response from the Wesley Clark campaign on 01/13/04, and from the Joe Lieberman campaign on 01/13/04. The other candidates did not respond. In the following paragraphs I will discuss the responses, ranking them by usefulness.

The response from the John Kerry campaign was by far the most useful. The Kerry campaign sent an e-mail, addressed to my first name, with links to Kerry's views on immigration such as the page on "Fairness And Security In Immigration Policy", which included a list of issue "Priorities." Since they did not include any information on Native Americans or African Americans, I followed up with another e-mail as follows.

Dear John Kerry for President,
Thank you for your reply. However, my concern was not about immigrants or immigration policy. My concern was about Native Americans and African Americans---people who do not fit under the motto, "Nation of Immigrants." I clicked on the links you provided and I did not find any related information.
Natalia J. Garland

The Kerry campaign responded on 01/13/04, apologizing for their oversight, and sending me more direct links to Kerry's views on his website: a section on "Native Americans for Kerry," including Kerry's speech to the National Congress of the American Indians on 11/17/03; and a list of issues under "Ensuring Tribal Sovereignty and Working to Improve the Lives of Native Americans." There was a direct link to a section on "African Americans for Kerry," including a statement from Kerry on "Eliminating Racial Health Disparities;" a list of issues under "John Kerry's Commitment to African Americans;" and several Press Releases, News Clips and Speeches.

The Joe Lieberman campaign sent an e-mail addressed to Dear Friend, with a link to his e-book, Leading With Integrity. The book is 80 pages in PDF form. Unfortunately, the Lieberman website seemed to have technical difficulties. The e-book would not download beyond the Table of Contents. I also had difficulty e-mailing the Lieberman campaign. Two e-mails were returned undeliverable. I went back to the website, and typed Native Americans and then African Americans in the website search engine. I was linked to the article, "Joe Lieberman: First Peoples Must Never be a Second Priortiy," and to "40th Anniversary of March on Washington." I also clicked on "Issues and Ideas" and found several articles about African Americans.

I was finally able to access Leading With Integrity on 01/18/03, but it stopped downloading after page 53. Nevertheless, there were sections on "Immigration Reform," starting on page 35; and on "Guided by Our Values," starting on page 42; which somewhat addressed my inquiry. There was also ample information on how to protect our post-9/11 world. Lieberman's book was detailed as well as personal.

The Clark campaign responded by sending a page from Clark's website containing information on his campaign activities in the state of Arizona. I went back to the website and found a link right on the homepage to the article, "American Indians & Alaskan Natives." I typed Native Americans and then African Americans in the website search engine. I was linked to a page containing a section on "American Communities." There were sub-sections on "American Indians & and Alaskan Natives," and "African Americans." These sub-sections contained Clark's basic policy positions.

The Dean campaign sent an automated response with links to the website, none of which were related to my inquiry. I went back to the website, typed Native Americans and then African Americans in the website search engine. Each time I was linked to a pamphlet entitled Common Sense for a New Century. It is 5 pages long. There is one paragraph on page 4, "Moral Leadership in the World," which somewhat addressed my concerns. The chapter on page 3, "Where We Have Come From," gives a brief history on slavery and the labor movement. I then found sub-sections on Native Americans and African Americans under the "Coalition Groups" section from the website's homepage. These sections contained statements and endorsements. (I ranked Dean's information below Clark's, because Clark's position statements seemed more precise.)

These campaign websites are probably largely staffed by volunteers. Lack of manpower may account for why some did not respond, although it is not difficult to create an automated response system. I dislike automated responses, but lack of any response could be interpreted as uncaring. I found it puzzling that the team members from the Lieberman, Clark, and Dean campaigns could not provide direct links related to my inquiry. It would seem that the team members did not know their candidate's views very well, did not know how to navigate their own candidate's website, or were not trained properly. This was an injustice to the candidates because they all had related information on their websites.

Nobody was interested in addressing the Nation of Immigrants question. I realize that I am only one person in a population of 291,500,000, but I am a registered voter nonetheless, and I am among the 7% of those 291,500,000 people who actually pay attention to the caucuses. I realize also that my inquiry could be viewed as controversial, but presidential candidates and their teams have to be able to manage controversial issues. I was left on my own to find a solution, so here goes.

Nation of Neighbors

To say that America is a Nation of Immigrants is like saying that America is a Nation of Single People. Now, we were all single people at one time. Some of us are still single, and some of us are now married. When people get married, they begin a new identity and lifestyle. They are no longer single, although they began life single. Likewise, some Americans are immigrants, and some are now the descendants of immigrants. There is a difference in self-concept, adjustment, and expectations between the two categories.

My suggestion is that we adopt the motto, Nation of Neighbors. This is an all-inclusive term that lends itself to both national and international relationships. The American Heritage Dictionary, 1981 edition, defines immigrant as "One who leaves a country to settle permanently in another." It defines neighbor as "A human being like oneself; a fellow man." As neighbors we come in all shapes, sizes, colors, races, cultures, and origins. We are not defined by our ability to work or by our contribution to society. We are defined by how we relate to other people.

If people are valued for their ability to participate in the workforce, such as is the case with Nation of Immigrants, then that excludes the disabled, the elderly, children, and stay-at-home mothers. If people are valued for their ability to make intellectual or artistic contributions to society, then that excludes those who are less gifted. If people are valued for their willingness and effort to be a good neighbor, such as is the case with Nation of Neighbors, then that includes all segments of American society. Anyone can be a good neighbor.

The motto, Nation of Immigrants, presumes that America is not our real homeland, that we still have an allegiance to a foreign country, and that we are defined by where we came from rather than where we are now. It is a stereotype of rather than an inspiration for American citizenry. I am not suggesting that people obliterate their heritage. My emphasis is simply on national identity and cohesion rather than on origins over which we had no control.

We are neighbors to one another in a linking chain across the nation. Theoretically, the new immigrant from Poland could be a neighbor to the second generation Mexican American, who could be a neighbor to the descendant of the Mayflower, who could be a neighbor to the African American, who could live next door to the family that is half Cherokee and half Irish. A community of predominately Korean Americans could live in harmony with a community of predominately Italian Americans. Practically, if we focus on equality, fairness, and caring relationships, we could make this happen to a greater extent. This is something we have control over.

We are border neighbors to Canada and Mexico. We are global neighbors in a world that gets smaller and smaller. Emphasizing the concept of neighborhood could promote peaceful international relationships. If some countries behave as bad neighbors and do not respond to attempts to live in unity, then the concept of neighborhood gives us the option of protecting ourselves and our good neighbors. It was a Nation of Neighbors that helped us survive the September 11th attacks. It is a Nation of Neighbors that can keep us secure nationally and internationally. (Written 01/19/04)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland