ALLAN JEFFERYS: Are We Still One Nation From Many?
Most of us, even if we're not sure what it means, see the expression "e pluribus unum" daily. We see it on coins as a reminder of just who we are.
The literal translation from the Latin professes to be: "Out of many, one." For many years, it was the unofficial motto of our nation before we finally endorsed "In God We Trust." Of course, if the ACLU has its way, that will have to change too.
We are truly one nation out of many peoples. More than 40 percent of us can trace our roots back to Ellis Island, which was the golden door through which more than 12 million immigrants passed.
They came and stood in line carrying little more than hope and dreams of what America offered. They soon learned that the streets were not paved in gold and that what this nation really offered was opportunity -- a chance.
These tempest-tossed souls gathered together in ghettolike tenements shared by others like themselves: Irish with Irish, Italian with Italian, Jews with Jews. While they scratched out a living, they studied English and the rules of this society -- all with an aim toward becoming Americans. Germans and Poles and Russians, all striving toward the same goal, with no hyphens.
It was a hard life, but most felt that the rewards were worth it as a second generation began to prosper and a third generation gave little sign of origin.
In many ways, America gained more than it gave as people such as Albert Einstein, architect I. M. Pei, Irving Berlin and Joseph Pulitzer flocked to our shores, bringing with them talent and industry and giant contributions.
Has any immigrant expressed love for our country better than Irving Berlin? He was not alone. Out of these many, one magnificent nation emerged.
How things have changed. Today, Ellis Island exists only as a museum, and millions of our immigrants are illegal, having sneaked across our borders with outstretched hands and demands that we bend to their language, their culture, and their rules.
Why, for example, should we have to push "1" for English? And who among us can truly believe that we save money by hiring illegals to pick tomatoes? Doesn't anyone count the costs of free breakfasts and lunches for the illegals' children? Or food stamps?
What about the illegal with six dependents who pays no income tax yet gets "earned income credit" of close to $3,000 or the cost of SSI which entitles him to Medicare when he is 65?
How cheap do these tomatoes sound now?
This is not to suggest that we forgo lighting the lamp that is beside the golden door. We shall always welcome the immigrant. But the immigrant must come to us legally and learn to meld into what we stand for.
Again, this is not to suggest the new citizen should forget his heritage and pride in his ethnicity. If he wants to worship his way, fine, but don't try to force us to conform and change our laws to fit his. If we have to have someone who speaks Farsi translate, so be it. We'll do that until you learn English. But don't expect "The Star-Spangled Banner" to be sung in Farsi. That's out.
You must also never forget that there is no free lunch, not for the immigrant and not for our country. If you get sick, the emergency room will treat you.
But don't expect free health insurance on the backs of the small business owner. That will only force him to lay people off to avoid the penalty.
The "e pluribus unum," the "out of many, one" is who we are and why we are. Our strength, our power, our greatness come from the many who come here and bring with them contributions to keep us great. Let us never lose that philosophy.
Let us never become a nation of many out of many.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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