I made a mistake last night that I regret. I was with close friends, people I care about deeply and treasure in my life. Although we are pretty much on the same page when it comes to politics when the discussion turned personal and we began speaking about how the current political climate affects our very lives I couldn’t keep my frustration in check. My friend’s two children have spouses from other countries and they are trying their best to expose their children to positive attitudes about race, gender and equality, all things that are vitally important. The husband of my friend’s daughter was recently confronted with outright bigotry for the first time since he moved here from his native Cayman Islands. It was disturbing, to say the least and I felt their pain and anger. My friends went on to describe how one of their grandchildren attends a school that is attended by a widely diverse student population and both they and their son and daughter-in-law are thrilled with how much diversity is celebrated and demonstrated there.
But here’s where I lost my cool. I listened for a while (as I have before, for what it’s worth) but something was missing form my friend’s adulation of “celebrating diversity.” And that was a core value: No matter how much we embrace diversity, in the end, we are all Americans.
What does that mean, exactly? Many things, now more than ever and I’ve given this a lot of thought throughout the months leading up to the recent election.
I guess I couldn’t help myself and exclaimed (too loudly) that if we lose sight of that in celebration of our differences there is a very real danger that we will lose sight of who we are as a whole. My friend countered that this celebration of diversity is nothing new, think about the old Italian American and Portuguese American and Irish American Clubs of our parent’s generation, he said. They celebrated their heritage, and they still do today. But wait, I said. In all those clubs you would surely find American flags on display, and meetings almost always started with the Pledge. This may sound a bit out of date in our modern, melded, connected and somewhat smug world, even a bit corny, but the take-away was that no matter how many times they called each other paisano or padre they knew that they might not have the freedom to do that if not for core belief in their country or the sacrifices of those who came before. I wondered aloud (again, too loudly) if the diverse student population of my friend’s grandchildren’s school happened to have a flag in their school or if the Pledge was part of their daily curriculum. Perhaps they do and I am totally off base. I have not been there so I cannot say.
Before I go any further I want to state categorically that I deplore people who wrap the flag around themselves as they practice racism, prejudice, misogyny, intolerance and hatred. The perversion of American values and beliefs must cease if we are to survive. Let’s not forget that we are ALL immigrants (although I know Native Americans have been here much longer than Europeans) and it wasn’t so long ago that the very people who are demonstrating such disgusting intolerance today probably had grandparents or great-grandparents who faced similar hatred.
So how does any of this relate to music? For me anyway, certain songs can sometimes sum up the way I feel about many things. In this case it is Paul Simon’s masterpiece, “An American Tune.” The last verse says it all.
“We come in a ship they called Mayflower,
We come on a ship that sailed the moon.
We come in ages’ most uncertain hours, and sing an American tune.
And it’s alright, oh it’s alright, you can be forever blessed.
Tomorrow’s gonna be another day and I’m trying to get some rest,
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.”
Peace & good music,