Freedom and opportunity, not language, define American values

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat May 6 14:13:30 UTC 2006

>>From the San Jose Mercury News, Posted on Fri, May. 05, 2006

Freedom and opportunity, not language, define American values

By Eddie Garcia

As third- and fourth-generation Mexican-Americans, my two young daughters
and I walked side-by-side with a sea of marchers May 1 to demonstrate our
support for immigrant rights. I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride to
see so many people exercise the most American of values -- free speech. I
was proud of the courage displayed by those who marched, and I relished
that we, as a country, have progressed and matured since the days of
violence on civil rights demonstrators by Southern authorities with fire
hoses and attack dogs. To be sure, our nation needs to have a thoughtful
debate on immigration, especially with respect to undocumented workers.
The discussion should include all relevant public policy issues.
Unfortunately, the segment of our populace that is fixated on the notion
that immigration dilutes American culture and values continues to hamper
meaningful discussion. Not only do those beliefs hinder thoughtful debate,
they also falsely imply that American values are connected to language and

Our values were born during the American Revolution and memorialized in
the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. From Jefferson's
declaration that all people have a right to pursue happiness to the
freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, American values are based on the
concepts of human dignity and freedom. Nowhere in those seminal documents
do the Founding Fathers proclaim that proficiency in English, a hearty
appetite for apple pie, or a specific ethnic heritage are requirements for
American values. The basis for our values is simple -- the belief in
freedom, hard work and the opportunity to succeed without regard to one's
station in society. At best, those who believe otherwise don't truly
understand the concept of American values.  At worst, they may be
xenophobes who are intolerant of diversity.

To illustrate the true notion of American values, the life of my
father-in-law, a man I greatly admire, comes to mind. He came to the
United States over 50 years ago as a teenager. He worked in the fields of
central California, married and moved to San Jose in the 1960s for a
construction job and in search of the American dream. He and his wife
raised four daughters, all of whom are college-educated and productive
members of our community. My father-in-law is more comfortable speaking in
Spanish than in English.  He would rather eat a meal of rice and beans
than a hamburger and fries.  When watching TV, he is more likely to tune
into Univision instead of CNN.  Those who believe that our nation's values
and culture are based on language, food and television habits would argue
that my father-in-law doesn't represent American values.

However, for the past 50 years, he has worked hard, paid taxes, financed
the education of four children, voted in elections and gratefully
struggled in his pursuit of happiness. On a recent trip to Washington, he
beamed with pride as he entered the White House for a tour. Based on the
concepts outlined by our Founding Fathers, my father-in-law personifies
American values and culture -- albeit not in the language that some would
have him do so. The 100,000 demonstrators who marched in San Jose strongly
conveyed their belief in American culture by exercising the value of free
speech. They may choose the San Jose International Mariachi Festival over
the San Jose Jazz Festival, tortillas over wheat bread, and the
Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish over English. Nevertheless, it is clear
that they believe in the values that our national anthem so eloquently
brings to life. They believe in the American dream that my father-in-law
embarked on a half century ago.

As Americans, we should continue a healthy debate on immigration, but
let's not divert the attention to those who fear diversity under the guise
of protecting American values. Those who come to our country already
understand our values. That's why they risked all to be here.

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list