Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 /14 Tishrei, 5762

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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We are Americans -- IT is a simple truth, obscured in recent years, but seen clearly again through the ashes of 6,000 lost lives. What unites us as Americans is more important than any of the petty divisions of race or ethnic group, of class or profession, of religious or political affiliation. We are not black or white, Asian or Latino, Christian or Jew. We are Americans. Our enemies understand this. Unfortunately, it has taken their savage attack to remind us of what some have forgotten.

We've been indoctrinated with the cult of multiculturalism for the past three decades in our public schools, in our colleges and universities, in the popular culture and news media, even from our public officials and political leaders. We've been told to abandon the myth of the melting pot and embrace the metaphor of the salad bowl, where each of us in our separate groups co-exist side by side, maintaining our ancestral identities and affinities intact. We've elevated "diversity" to a kind of civic virtue, ignoring that diversity can be good or bad. It is what we do with our diversity that matters.

For the moment, at least, we seem willing to put this nonsense aside. We are not a multicultural nation. We are one nation, indivisible. We are one people, regardless of our color or creed, how long our families have been here or where they came from. And in that, we are unique in the annals of human history.

We saw it on the faces of those gathered in Yankee Stadium last weekend to pray for the dead. They were black and brown and white. They wore uniforms and t-shirts. Some covered their heads with yarmulkes, or turbans, or scarves. But they waved small, American flags and sang the national anthem.

In time of war, it is easier to remember what it is that binds us together. We are fighting to protect our freedom, to preserve our democracy, to continue our way of life, to sustain our unity. But when this war is over -- and it will end, not soon, perhaps, but victoriously nonetheless -- will we remember what it is we were fighting for?

Or will we go back to the corrosive ideology that pits one group against another, that divides us into factions, that emphasizes difference over commonality? What makes this task all the more daunting is the huge shift in demography that has taken place in the last several decades, especially the impact of immigration on our population.

There has never been a time in our history when it was more important to recommit ourselves to assimilating the millions of newcomers who have come to the United States in recent years -- nearly 30 million living here now. It is simply not tenable to continue to accept so many million foreign-born to live here permanently unless both they and we are willing to help make Americans of them. At every period of large-scale immigration to this country, we have understood this as our duty -- that is until recently.

In the waning days of the Clinton administration, proposals floated to alter dramatically the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, to drop or diminish the English requirement for naturalization, to reduce the amount of knowledge of U.S. history and civics required, to abandon portions of the oath of allegiance.

Not only should we reject such misguided public policy proposals, we must reinvigorate the concept of Americanizing newcomers and do so proudly. Our schools should be committed to teaching immigrant children English, so that they can fully participate in our society. They should teach all students -- not just immigrants -- American history in depth so that they understand the foundations of our democracy. Our volunteer and community organizations should promote civic education for immigrants, setting up classes in cities and towns to help prepare immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

We can turn our diversity into a strength by creating a common identity from our various strands. Like steel, an alloy of iron and carbon, we can become stronger from the union of our elements, but only by forging them into one. But if we fail to do so, our great American experiment will fail. And it will not be terrorists who destroy us but ourselves.

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