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!