1. MY FOLKS ARE FIRST-TO-SECOND generation Americans, who (along with my immigrant and immigrant-descended relatives) taught me that, “In America, you can do anything you want as long as you play nicely with the others.” To them, that meant speaking, thinking, building and living as you choose — as well as helping out those less fortunate.
2. It may be hokey, but that philosophy is still the basis of my sense of patriotism, national pride or cultural chauvinism: “Come here and make a life for yourself — and help the rest of us do the same.” It’s also why I vote the way I do; if I think someone/thing will help make life better for everyone, I’m in; if not, I’m out. (Call me a bleeding-heart libertarian, if that helps you any.)
3. Sadly, we have also earned a reputation for poisoning the local air, land and water in exchange for tax credits; polluting the local mediasphere with rank invective, militant chuckleheadness and recreational character-assassination; and waging unnecessary wars. Environmental criminals (who for the purpose of this piece I would define as anyone who values their profit over the happy lives of me and mine) should take a lesson from the second half of my ancestors’ exhortation. It may already be too late to fix their foolishness; it already shames me to admit these bozos live in my conceptual neighborhood.
4. Most of my formative years were spent in the Northeast, where it seemed “ethnic identity” was something taken for granted as an organic part of oneself. Northern California is way different — folks here tend to be more self-conscious about their own and others’ identity. While that’s better than bigotry, I’m not sure it’s entirely good — for the same reason that it’s not good to think too hard about breathing, or riding a bicycle, or making music, or love.
5. The whole “melting pot” idea, where ethnic refugees drop everything to “become Americans,” is obviously not working (neither, thank “God,” did “separate but equal”). (After all, by definition, Americans can live and look like anybody.) What makes America my currently preferred home (or, as Abbie Hoffman put it, why “my last meal would be a burger, fries and Coke”) is the idea that we’re all pieces in a puzzle, looking for a fit. I heartily deplore the stupid things “my” country has done (especially where that stupidity costs lives and slack). But I am glad to live where people want to do something about the crimes which come to light — and to discover the ones which haven’t.