Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Flags

We live in an agricultural area, and a significant portion of my daily commute takes me through rural areas.

Today on the way home, I passed a field where they were harvesting cantaloupes. Cantaloupes are hand harvested. The field workers walk through the fields, one to each row, and pick the cantaloupes. They toss them up onto a contraption (a machine that's towed behind a tractor) that follows along behind them, where they roll down a conveyor to a group of workers who package them in boxes.

This particular field had eight or ten of these machines in it when I drove past, and I noticed that every machine had at least one flag flying over it-some as many as three. All in all, I counted a total of thirteen flags. One was an American flag. The others were the flags of Mexico, India, and some other country that I didn't recognize.

Now don't get me wrong-I'm not one of those who are adamantly opposed to seeing flags other than the old red-white-and-blue anywhere in this great nation. We're a free nation! We should be free to fly whatever flag we choose!

But I did realize something today. You see, these folks-these field workers-were probably all immigrants (legal or illegal, it's irrelevant; point is, they're immigrants). They've immigrated from Mexico, India and whatever country the other flag (that I didn't recognize) represented. But they're not immigrants in the same sense as my great-great grandparents were.

My ancestors (as I understand it) came over in the late 1800's from Germany. They endured a long-arduous boat trip-a trip on which, I imagine, a number of their fellow immigrants died. They were deposited (as were so many other immigrants during that period) on the shores of Ellis Island, and spent a day and night there in the vast halls going through the arduous process of "immigrating." Physical examinations, medical tests, verbal questioning-all designed to ensure the immigrant could effectively become a part of American society.


I stood there, at Ellis Island, a number of years ago, and found my ancestors on the wall that they have there, with the name of every immigrant to pass through engraved on it. And as I stood there, I happened to look up, and I saw Lady Liberty standing there in the background-tall, stoic, representing everything America is about, and I recall pride swelling in my chest-pride that I'm a part of this great nation. And I remember imagining my ancestors steaming into New York Harbor that day, so many years ago. I wonder if, on that day so many years ago, when they caught their first glimpse of that majestic statue as the fog began to clear, they didn't feel much the same way. I can't help but think that, as they passed through those halls at Ellis Island, and braved the rigorous examinations, they must have caught a glimpse of her through those windows, and felt that sudden swell of emotion-we call it patriotism-for all that she meant to them.


And then I contrast them-my ancestors-with the folks I saw in the cantaloupe field today, and I realized the difference. To my ancestors, America meant freedom, liberty, a chance for a new life. To them, America was the Land of Opportunity. To those folks in the field today, America is just an opportunity. For some, an opportunity to have a job so that they can send money back home to support the rest of their family. For some, an opportunity to work, and become wealthy (at least by their standards). For some, simply an opportunity to escape living in squalid conditions. And you know what? I don't begrudge any of them that. These are all excellent reasons for being here-great, and admirable, every one of them. But I work with these people, I've met them, talked to them. Most of them don't understand America, and thus don't love it. They didn't have that moment in New York Harbor-that dawning moment when America, and what it means, came into clear view through the dissipating fog. And so, to them, America is just an opportunity-and I have to hand it to them; they're taking the opportunity-and I don't begrudge them that. I only wish for those days when every person that stepped on these hallowed shores for the very first time experienced that moment of breathlessness, because this is a new way of life-something to hold tight to, to cherish.

So, no: I'm not in favor of legislation that makes it illegal to fly the flag of another country. I'm in favor of us pulling together, evaluating our great nation, righting the things that need righting, and making it, once again, a Land of Opportunity. I long for the day when I walk up to an immigrant worker in the field, and he's flying an American flag-not because he's prohibited from flying a Mexican one, but because he loves America, and all it represents!

8 comments:

Ogre said...

Well i see you point but, Its hard to swallow all the immigrant's standing in the welfare line with there american flag shirts on that say"Pround para ser un americano" and there collecting money to feed there 12 children that i should beable to claim on my taxes

PJ said...

I have to say Ogre, that you make a great point! Here's the deal though: think about what it means to be a true American-the type I described. Like you, and me, and our parents and most of our friends. See, part of being a real American is maintaining the values that mean "America".

Values like pride of ownership, and hard work, and self-sufficiency. Those are some of the things that my ancestors-and probably yours-were proud to have the opportunity to experience. They would NEVER stand in the welfare line, with their American flag shirts that say...well that (but in German), collecting public funds.

Reminds me of "Cinderella Man" (I read the book folks...stop freaking out). Braddock finally accepts that his family is going to die if he doesn't come up with some money-so he finally goes to accept the welfare. But when times were good again, he went back to the welfare office, and repaid the money-every penny (with interest, as I recall).

My point is, he was a true American. He valued what America values. And he allowed the system to help him out, when he truly needed it-but repaid the system when he no longer needed it.

So, my point: just because they have the flag shirt on doesn't mean they are American. American is a way of life, a set of values-not a flag or a birth certificate!

So, be American! Challenge everyone you know to be American-in every sense!

Ogre said...

What is it actually that America values? There is nothing worng when you are in a time of need and have no other options. Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt focused mainly on creating jobs for the masses of unemployed workers, he also backed the idea of federal aid for poor children and other dependent persons. By 1935, a national welfare system had been established for the first time in American history. So this is what it is used for and i know this really dosent have to do with field workers using diffrent flags but we have abused a program that generated help for people in need not someone that is just plain lazy.

PJ said...

It actually has EVERYTHING to do with fieldworkers and their flags-because the issues are one and the same.

Again, when they love and respect America, and believe in what it stands for, they contribute. They're not a vacuum-sucking constantly. when they are constantly taking, it means that they see the US as an opportunity-not an ideal to love and cherish.

So, I think Ogre, in a way, you're making my point for me!

Thanks!

Ogre said...

Anyone else have any other thought? Come on this can be just s two man show. Or is Pj and I the only pepole that read this blog that think this way?

SheGazelle said...

I find myself with an enormous lump in my throat and wet eyes when our flag passes in a procession or is honored at an event. I can't explain my feelings and thoughts in those moments.
What a great place to live!

deanna eccles said...

Yes it truly is a great place to live. Its no wonder so many want to come here. Honestly I don't really believe that the majority of the wellfare line is immigrants. Personally I think it is being abused by alot of our very own kind. Most of the immigrants work hard (men, women and children) tell me if they weren't here would we work the fields. I think not. So yes I think there is a right way that they should go about coming here. But I think it is unfair of us to imply they are not doing their share.

Katie Booker said...

As I read your post I couldn't help but think of the song, "I Still Do" by Four the Cause. If you haven't heard it..you have to take a moment to hear it!
I am one of the lucky to have been born ON the US National Flag Day..and since I was very little I have always considered it one of the greatest privileges of my life!
I'm PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!!! And who can blame these poor illegals that want to get what we have...