Our currency bears the inscription E Pluribus Unum. That Latin phrase is often translated as, “out of the many, one”. However, and I must admit near total ignorance of Latin, the phrase, “e pluribus unum” has been translated as, “of more, one”. “Out of many, one” would be more accurately translated as, “ex multis, unum”. In fact, what we have gotten in this grand experiment is not a melting pot in which diverse individuals, coming to America with an ethnic identity, culture and language, become one large homogenous amalgam of component parts, but a chunky soup. We have imagined an oleo, but what we have gotten is an olio; a hodgepodge, a mulligan stew. Ergo, ex multis, multa.
The tenacity with which ethnic groups hang on to their identity is not surprising. It is in many ways “who they are”. The problem is that we are not comfortable with that. Margaret Mead said something of the order that there is no group of people on earth that does not have some practice that is horrifying to another group. She also said, “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.”
The contributions that individuals bring come as a result of their whole experience – family, neighborhood, school, church – and the culture that existed in each of those places. And, as Henry Fonda replied when asked what made his son and daughter great actors, “They’re my kids.” The interviewer had some trouble understanding that it wasn’t the way they were raised, or his example, but his genes that he was talking about.
The diversity that exists in America is frightening to some. The specter of otherness inspires fear and apprehension. Italian Americans in Philadelphia grow up on the other side of the avenue from Afro-Americans and they never meet each other. I only mention this example because I knew two men from Philadelphia who met in the Army only to find that they had lived across the street from each other, “back in the World.”
From Geri Eaker shared with the public.
Today we are suffering a cultural upheaval in the U.S. As we suffer through a time of great economic privation many people look for a cause, and that often produces scapegoats. This is a natural reaction, but the outcome is very unfortunate. Without getting into my own thoughts about the business practices and the lawmakers who aided and abetted in creating the conditions that allowed our economy to crash, I can just say that I don’t think it was the fault of any of the people you see on the street that don’t look like you (unless that street is Wall Street).
Blaming immigrants, blaming Hispanics, blaming “illegals” is just a form of tribalism. It’s easy to think that since “those people” don’t look like you, attend a different church, speak another first language, or dress differently, that they are a threat; the problem.
What must be remembered is that “those people” are like you in many more ways than they are different. Chances are they love their kids. Chances are they worship the same God you do, if in a slightly different way. And it is certain that they get hungry and cold just like you do.
What we ought to be doing is thinking about why immigrants continue to come here. Think about the process and the individuals that caused you to lose YOUR job. Those individuals are usually invisible, but if you could see them the chances are they would look a lot like you, that they would profess to believe in the same God you do, that they might even go to the same church. They might even be the pillar of the community; the person everyone looks up to. Just because people look like you and talk like you does not mean that they are like you.
Tony Hillerman, the author of an entire series of novels featuring Navajo characters and culture, was made an honorary Navajo. When asked how he got to be such friends with the Navajo people he said, “My father taught me that you judge a man by how he treats his family, whether you can depend on him, whether he is honest. Those things are all that matter.”