My wife was not born in America. She had lived here for five years before I met her, and we are working our way through the system of obtaining a green card. The experience has been frustrating for her, and enlightening for me. I had never found the word “Alien” to be derogatory, but to her, it is. She remembers using the word for “foreigner” or “immigrant”, even when she lived in English speaking countries. Aliens come from outer space and are usually green.
Although she has visited more countries than I, it is very possible that my travels have covered more miles. When most Americans are asked where they are from, they will respond with a city or state. I usually say “America”. My lack of a strong identity of origin has fed my nationalistic pride. With that, I have always found the need to hyphenate nationality as, well, silly. My previous wife’s first words to me were “You need to know two things about me. I’m Sicilian, and I smoke”. She had never left America, her parents had both been born in America, but she felt she was Sicilian, not even Sicilian-American. We have a friend from Rhodesia, her parents were from Scotland and she has white skin and red hair, no one would ever call her an African-American.
A couple of conversations converged to bring today’s topic to the page. One was the flak over Mattel’s dolls of the world collection. Not the entire collection, just “Mexico Barbie”. Apparently some people take an impossibly proportioned fantasy totem seriously as an international ambassador. From what I have been able to find out, the people who have found the doll insulting to their heritage have no idea of what their heritage consists of. They are “Mexican-Americans” who have never been to Mexico. They wish to identify with a culture which they know nothing about. People who actually live in Mexico find the doll to be quite appropriate.
Another conversation was with a black friend. He mentioned that the Gadsden Flag was being banned in New Rochelle, because it was “offensive” and a “symbol of the TEA party”. The flag, familiar to all Americans as a symbol of the revolutionary war, has been adopted by the TEA party, but has also been used by the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps since 1775. It brought to my mind the issues in America about the “Stars and Bars” or Confederate flag. To many, the flag represents rebellion, and/or pride in Southern heritage. But other groups find it symbolic of the civil war, which they feel is symbolic of slavery, which of course is symbolic of racism, so people who display the Stars and Bars are racists, even if they happen to be black. This took us into a deeper conversation about racial terms, and he pointed out that no one from Egypt would want to be called an African American. It should also be noted that as a black person, memories of Africa would include being captured by other Africans and sold to slave traders. Maybe there’s a reason that although they tend to venerate the continent, very few recall which country was their origin. This brought to mind comments by Dr. Bill Cosby, who started his career reminiscing about growing up in Philadelphia but is now not well loved in the black community due to his portrayal of the “unattainable” status of the Huxtable family.
I knew a woman in the Air Force, who suddenly became Irish in March. She was from Savannah GA, where St. Patrick’s day brings out the Irish in everyone. A little research reveals there are nine times as many people of Irish heritage in the United States as in all of Ireland. There are more people of Polish descent in Detroit than in Warsaw. America is a land of immigrants, I grew up with the term “melting pot”, because we were supposed to see ourselves as Americans, different cultures all contributing to the American culture. then the hyphenating began, and we became a nation of differences. A nation of Aliens. Alien nation begets Alienation. How easy it is to make people distrust a country that they do not feel they belong to?
Recently a meteorite was found that may have originated on Mercury, others have been identified as being of Martian origin. Some meteorites have contained evidence of life. Perhaps life on Earth originated from, or at least was catalyzed by, alien sources. In that case, would we all be aliens? It would fit the current opinions that we don’t belong here, that we are damaging the planet. I’m wondering what extradition treaties will come into play.
I’m considering moving someplace smaller. Belgium. Fewer occupants than Manhattan. Three languages (I speak one fluently, one I studied long ago and can survive around, the third I’m learning now). Wonderful beers, high carbohydrate diets (frites, waffles, cheeses, and chocolates), and an immigration policy much less complex than America. Probably shortly after we get my wife’s “permanent” green card. Then I will have another perspective on aliens.