American Hash

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I’ve never written about this before, but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. Drinking and hazing and general stupidity have given fraternities (I don’t like using the term “frats”) a bad name, and I wouldn’t disagree with much of the criticism of them. But one element of the fraternity life seems relevant in these times, and that’s the experience of fraternity rush.

Rush in my time, back in the 1980s, was soaked in alcohol. There was talk of moving to “dry” rush, and that might be a better way to do it, because nobody’s really at their best when they’re drunk. I’m certainly no exception to that, either. But the reason rush exists is to find new members, to keep your house growing for the future. It’s recruiting under a different name, really. And it needs to be done, for the long-term survival of the House.

But just showing up at a party wasn’t enough to gain acceptance. A prospective member needed to show that he could offer something to the existing members, to the point where a bid, or an invitation to join, would be offered. The members of the house would meet people, take their measure in whatever social setting was going on, and decide what to do about offering a bid. That’s where the hash came in.

After a rush party was over, the existing members (you can use the term “brothers” if you want, but I never cared for the term too much) met to discuss the various people who came to the festivities. We called it “hash” because we hashed out our differences about particular people. Some prospective members were generally liked, some people were not, and most fell somewhere in between.  Speeches were made in support of some prospective members, and in the end votes were taken.

In my house, at least, the strongest gesture in support of a prospective member was “jumping the couch,” and if someone I respected in the house jumped the couch for someone else, that was enough to get me to vote in their favor. People who warranted a couch jumping generally received a bid.

At the other end of this spectrum was a “blackball” which I now realize has loaded racial meanings, but the effect of a blackball was that a member would put their opposition to someone in the strongest terms possible. Blackballed persons didn’t get bids, because doing so would be disrespectful to whoever offered it.

The people known as “Dreamers” are essentially prospective members of the American fraternity. They didn’t come to our rush party by themselves, but were brought here by their parents as children. They aren’t “illegal immigrants” as the blackballers among us prefer to call them. They grew up here, and think of the United States as their home. 700,000 of them, give or take whatever the actual number is, are now waiting for our national hash to play itself out.

Extending a bid to these Dreamers will shape the future, without a doubt.  Sending all these people away—or worse, forcing them to live in fear of deportation in the land they call home, as most of them would surely do before leaving on their own terms—would be an act that goes against what America is all about. They’re here now, waiting for the chance to raise their families in the only land they know.

With that in mind, I’m ready to jump the couch on their behalf. Let’s ensure America’s continued survival by giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship, and welcoming them to the American fraternity. It’s the smart and compassionate thing to do, so let’s do it.

It’s the thought that counts

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My next door neighbors are good people. I think of them every time I hear some people on TV railing about “illegal immigration.” It seem like a bigoted, racist term directed at people that the speaker doesn’t know the first thing about. “If they speak Spanish and have brown skin, get them outta here.” It’s antithetical to what America is, at least in my mind.

One day earlier this summer, as I was grilling up some dinner, my neighbor offered me a beer. I’ve drank more Corona in my life than I want to know about, but gave it up three years ago. But still, it was a thoughtful gesture, and one I didn’t refuse.

I took the cap off and made a pretend show of drinking the beer. I knew that taking a sip was a bad idea, because I’ve harmed my body in ways I’ll never realize by drinking so much through the years. But still, I wanted my neighbor to know I appreciated his offer. I wanted him to see that not every Anglo-speaking person wants him and his family to leave the country. And I wanted him to see that sharing a beer–as old of an American tradition as there is–is something that neighbors do with each other. In many ways, it was the best beer I never had.

Long may it wave

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I saw a clip online today that made me angry. On the eve of celebrating the birth of this great country, there was Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, chattering on about illegal immigration. Terms like “anchor baby” were used, and the right wing fantasy that people can–and should–leave the country en masse reared its ugly and ignorant head.

America is predicated upon people coming here from all parts of the world. They think they can better their lives here, and usually they are correct. To turn our backs on this is to deny American history, and sell this great nation short. It’s nothing less than unAmerican to do that. You might just as well take down the flag and cut it into pretty ribbons, because it won’t be the same flag that once attracted our ancestors to these shores.

Let’s all honor our country–and our immigrant ancestors, wherever they may be–by remembering what this country is, and by slapping down those who would make it into anything less. Happy 4th of July to everyone.

America the Beach

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Let’s imagine that it’s a summer’s day, and you want to go to the beach to cool off. You pack a few things into a beach bag, grab a chair to sit in, and you’re on your way.

When you arrive at the beach, and there’s just a couple of others already there. You can put your chair down just about anywhere you like, and you find a perfect spot. You set your things down, put on some sun screen, pull out a book, and start to read. Life seems pretty good.

You read for about an hour or so, and as you do the beach becomes increasingly more crowded. It seems like the beach is exactly the place to be on a hot day, and others had the same idea as you did. You don’t like it, so you decide to get up and go for a walk along the water’s edge.

As you’re walking, you notice that people are still continuing to come. And worse, they’re bringing kids with their pails and shovels, and they’re playing music, and they’re leaving their trash behind. And you, who only wanted a quiet day on a peaceful beach, don’t like it. You get it in your head that you can decide who comes to the beach, and who can’t. You’ll take back this beach for yourself, and for the others that you decide can be there.

But you would be wrong to do that, since it’s not your beach to begin with. It never really was, as much as you might have wished it were so when you first arrived. Your right to go to the beach doesn’t trump anyone else’s right to go there, as well.

Now imagine that the beach is the United States of America. It’s the largest beach in all the world, and people have been coming to it for centuries now. But the fact that this keeps happening is not a danger or a threat to the beach itself. Those who are on the beach will have to accept that whatever drew them to the beach is drawing the others to the beach, too. And it’s a big enough beach for anyone who wants to come, even if they don’t look like you or speak your language.

When members of the House of Representatives, all of them Republicans, introduced a bill that would do an end run around the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by ending birthright citizenship, they are trying to make themselves the kings of the beach. They have either forgotten, or perhaps they never knew, that their ancestors who once came to this country weren’t wanted here, either.

Immigrants have a hard life in this country, enduring the disdain of people who don’t want to share the American beach with them. And yet their children assimilate into the American culture, and soon enough the old ways are forgotten. Or, if they are preserved, it’s with the realization that things can never be the same in America as they were back in the old country, whatever country that might be.

The Republicans who introduced this bill, and think it’s a good idea, need to come to grips with what they’re doing. America is a beach, and it always will be. Those who would close or restrict that beach, for whatever reason, are dishonoring their own immigrant ancestors, while also proclaiming a shocking ignorance as to what America is.

America, as it always has been

Sunday afternoon, River Park, Chicago

My daughter is meeting some classmates at the park, and the waterpark that is attached to it, for a mid-summer’s playdate. The kids are edging their way toward middle school, and so that term won’t be acceptable to them someday soon. But for now it’s still all right to call it that.

As I was leaving the event, and walking back to my car, I saw a scene that would probably frighten some people, and anger some others. Grown men were playing a spirited game of soccer (although they thought of it as futbol, I’m sure). Families were enjoying the warm summer weather by barbecuing and picknicking. The sounds of traditional dance music filled the air. If I closed my eyes, I might feel as if I had been transported to someplace south of the border. But here I was, smack dab in the middle of the good old U.S. of A.

It occurred to me that there was something distinctly American about that scene. These were people who had probably left their old homeland, in search of something better. They came to America, just like my ancestors did, and your ancestors did, too. And now they do the lousy work, and suffer the disapproval of the more established folks who don’t appreciate that “those people” have come to take away jobs and get free things and ruin the “better” America that somehow existed before all of the new people arrived.

Go back to the 20th century, or the 19th, or even the 18th, and you would see the same thing. But America has somehow survived every new wave of immigrants. This is because no group of people is powerful enough to bring America down. And, at the same time, America takes what each new group has to offer–their food, their language, their social customs–and adopts it, in some form or fashion. That’s how America survives and grows.

There are millions of people who are here now, whether everyone else likes it or not. Who’s going to sort through their various levels of legality? The federal government? Not at a time when funds are being slashed, and smaller government seems to be the preferred state of things for some people. So you want to shrink the government, unless it rids the country of people who speak a different language or had a different upbringing than you did? Sorry, but that seems like a load of caca to me.

Those who would just as soon send these people away like to consider themselves as “real” Americans. But, in truth, they’re oblivious to what America always has been, and what it always will be, too. Rather than viewing the scene in River Park–and countless other parks all over this country–as a danger to America, let’s take it as an affirmation that America is still just what our ancestors expected it to be. I think they’d all be proud of us if we did.