Monday, January 23, 2006

What does it mean to be an American?

Mail Call:Newsweek: "As an orthodox Jewish rabbi with a beard and payos (earlocks) whose grandparents came to America more than a century ago, I absolutely do not want a European, African or Asian immigrant as my president.

Why not? Yes, I know that the Constitution says the President can't be an immigrant, but what's the reason for this requirement? Is it rooted in more than nativism, or fear of the other? Do you support the constitution on this point out of a simple respect for the law of the land, or because it speaks to your particular bias?

It takes at least one generation to not only be a legal American, but to feel and think like an American.

Says who? The Founders banned new arrivals from the nation's highest office because they were afraid some European might seize control and turn the young country into an adjunct of Europe. They weren't concerned with the quality of "feeling or thinking like an American" because no such thing existed in 1789. And, so long as we're on the subject, what does it mean to "feel or think like an American?" Is there really any one quality some 295,734,134 people share? If so, what do you propose we do with the American's who might lack it? Strip them of their citizenship? Ban them from public office?

My daughter went to law school at St. John's in her wig and long dresses, and is one of the youngest graduates in its history. Only in America could a third-generation Orthodox Jewess successfully attend a Roman Catholic school that is run by real democratic Americans who truly understand freedom of religion and make allowances for her.

Yes, I agree it would be strange, indeed, if she found herself in an Italian or British school run by "real democratic Americans." However, Americans aren't the only ones who understand freedom of religion. Europe has many schools like the nominaly Roman Catholic St John's, schools where your daughter might have thrived without compromising her values.

I am a proud American, and my involvement with 'new' Americans demonstrates to me that they need the time to fully become Americanized so that they feel and think like Americans."

I am also a "proud American." One of the things that makes me most proud is that the quality of being an American is not fixed, but dynamic. It changes to reflect the will and the action of each generation of Americans. Those there customs and ideas commonly identified with this country, none are intrinsic to being American. The country, and our identity as citizens, it whatever we make of it.