I lay claim to a national origin that is mostly Swedish and Irish, with a little English and French in the mix somewhere. My mother’s parents were mostly Irish, and nobody ever became energetic about disclosing where the English and French came from. My father’s parents were all Swede.
Both sets of grandparents managed to instill in me accents that had me sticking around for a while after the rest of the kids were excused from 1st grade to work on pronouncing dozens of words that sounded more like Swedish and Gaelic than English. Years later I would be visiting the USSR to learn more Russian, only to be told by the natives that I spoke Russian with a Swedish accent.
A brief essay in the July 18, 2016, issue of TIME Magazine, “The immigrant’s fate is everyone’s,” by Viet Than Nguyen, is number 9 in a list of “240 Reasons to Celebrate America,” the cover story.
Nguyen, a writer, professor, and winner of a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with his novel “The Sympathizer,” hits the nail on the head when he writes: “Without immigrants (and refugees and slaves), we would be a much paler and older country, burdened with bland food, boring music and stale language. Imagine an America with no jazz or salsa, no rock music or spring rolls, no rap or wraps. Would you want to live here?”
I’ve had my share of readers that have some praise for my writing (and more than a few who had a less pleasant reaction), but I’d love to have Nguyen’s way with English. I don’t know for certain, but guess that English is not his native language.
Yet he reminds us that Ronald Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” and John Kennedy told Berliners he was one of them. He reminds us that immigrants have struggled to gain their place in this country and “…have forced Americans to reread their Constitution.”
And he reminds us that no one should ever be considered 3/5ths of a human being and that we are not all white and always right.
We are a nation of immigrants. All of us are descendants of immigrants.