A presidential election year always gets me to thinking about what I like (and dislike) about my country. One thing that I like most is that an immigrant can become American –– not just by the rules of the law and the government but in the minds of fellow Americans.
That may not sound like much –– but consider: no matter how long an immigrant lives in, say, Japan or France, will the natives ever say that the immigrant is truly Japanese or French? Some countries’ cultures are so strong and sometimes so xenophobic that many or even most natives never consider an immigrant, or even the native-born children of immigrants, to be one of them.
But Americans have accepted plenty of foreigners as Americans: Charlie Chaplin, Andrew Carnegie, Michael J. Fox, Henry Kissinger, Alexander Graham Bell, Wolfgang Puck, Charlize Theron, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili. Heck, my fellow Californians elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor. And millions of not-famous immigrants have seen their native-born neighbors accept and even welcome them.
Millions of immigrants have seen uglier responses, of course. While many Americans accept outsiders, we’ve also displayed far too much xenophobia and nativism.
I hope that it diminishes. The ability to accept outsiders has enriched and strengthened the United States.