Celebrating Our Differences
August 14, 2016
I have the greatest admiration for two friends of ours. Robert and Debby are both from medium size Midwestern towns where they lived most of their lives and raised five daughters. Both were raised in the Catholic faith; Robert attended parochial school and Debby went to public schools. Debby has a great aunt who was a nun. Their religion is important to them and all their daughters attended Catholic schools. Although their daughters are adults now, the family remains very close. Robert and Debby visit the girls frequently and they are always available to help out in emergencies, such as the premature birth of twins to one of their daughters.
Debby and Robert’s daughters’ have chosen different paths in their personal lives. All of them are working at professional jobs and two are married and raising children. A third daughter, who has two children, was married to an Indian/American man who followed the Hindu faith. However, that marriage failed and she is presently living with a partner. The fourth daughter is gay and a year ago, the entire family traveled to her home to celebrate her marriage to her long-time partner. Then the fifth daughter, who had been dating a Jewish man, decided to convert to Judaism. Her parents’ only reaction was happiness for their daughter and an interest in her studies. When she finished her religious classes, Robert and Debby traveled to their daughter’s home to celebrate her naming ceremony which officially made her a member of the Jewish faith. And soon, they will travel to her home again when she marries her fiancé.
Debby told me about all these things as they happened. And, through it all, she and Robert never uttered a negative word. The only event that was painful was their daughter’s divorce and that was because it was painful for their daughter. They supported her, both emotionally and physically throughout the ordeal. They not only accepted their daughters’ choices, but celebrated them. When I asked Debby if their children’s choices and/or lifestyles bothered her and Robert, she replied, “No, because that’s how we raised them.”
Our son-in-law is half African/American and half Italian. With her grandparent’s and mother’s Jewish heritage, our granddaughter is truly a modern American mixture. When I am with her, sometimes I see a bit of one part; another time I see a bit of another. But most of the time, I see only a beautiful child who is the best part of this country. And sometimes I remember how things were in this country not all that many years ago; when it was actually illegal for different races to marry and when the newest immigrants – be they Jewish, Italian, Chinese or Latino – were criticized and rejected from much of American life. Thank goodness things have changed.
But have they? During this election, we have all heard Donald Trump talk about the wall he is going to build to keep immigrants out. And we’ve heard him announce over and over that Muslim immigrants will not be allowed to enter our country. We’ve seen the crowds of people cheer him on and repeat his words. It’s not Donald Trump that frightens me as much as the people attending his rallies. They are unhappy with their lives and waiting for someone to tell them how to fix it. They are looking for a scapegoat to blame their problems on and Trump has provided it: Muslim immigrants. We have returned to the past.
I am filled with visions of concentration camps and the people in Germany who followed Hitler and allowed the Holocaust to happen. I remember the genocide of some 100,000 people (primarily Bosnians) by the hands of Serbians led by Slobodan Milosevic. In 1994, extreme members of the Hutu ethnic majority in Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. There are, and always will be, a disaffected minority who can be rallied by leaders who speak to their fears and feelings of disenchantment. All they need is someone to blame; someone or some group on whom to place their anger.
But still, I am hopeful, at least for the United States of America. Donald Trump is losing and more and more influential people are speaking against him. Perhaps, in our country and in parts of Europe, we have learned from history that to do nothing is to allow the worst to happen. And today there is even more to celebrate and that is the amazing and wonderful ethnic and religious mixtures of our families.
In their book, American Grace – How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell write: “As Americans have come to live by, make friends with, and wed people of other religions, their overlapping social relationships have made it difficult to sustain interreligious hostility. While not every religion escapes hostility, interreligious tensions are far more muted today than in the America of yesterday or in many other nations today.”
Another words, how can you hate someone of another religion or ethnicity when your son-in law, daughter-in-law or sister-in-law belong to that group? You know that person personally and you not only like him or her; he/she is family and their children are blood relations. My friends, Robert and Debby, didn’t need anyone to tell them this; they raised their children with these beliefs and their children will raise their children in a multi-ethnic/religious world. Their family, our family and all those families like ours are the present and the future. History shows us that we will always have to be ready to deter people like Donald Trump and his followers. And we can do that by welcoming Muslims and each new wave of immigrants after them, onto our shores and into our homes. This is not only the American way but the right way.