Monday, May 8, 2006

When Two Worlds Collide

On Friday, as I was driving back from the airport my phone rang.

“It’s Cinco de Mayo!”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“We should get Mexican!”

“Um, ok, why?”

“To celebrate!”

At this point the conversation could have gone one of two ways. First, I could have pointed out that as Americans we really do not have anything to celebrate and further to the point, celebrating a foreign country’s sole military accomplishment (which, naturally, came against the French) really seemed to be a bit contrived. Alternatively, I could go along with ruse, knowing that a fine meal washed down by overly sweet alcoholic concoctions made with Mexican barking juice couldn’t be all that bad.

“Phone in the order, I’ll pick it up on my way home!”

When I arrived at my local Mexican joint the scene was remarkable. As I think readers are aware I live in the whitest of white locales. The Mexican population of our fair town increases quite dramatically each day during the spring, summer and early fall at 7a.m., and recedes again at approximately 3:30. Down the road about a half mile is another town. In this town the population flows are the exact inverse of those in my town and unsurprisingly there are a couple of very good non-chain Mexican restaurants.

It was into one of these places that I went last Friday to collect our dinner. As I said the scene was remarkable. The place was absolutely jammed with happy families from both towns celebrating the holiday. What a country, huh? I mean here we were the most successful country in the history of the world. We started the week with a ridiculous mass demonstration for “immigrant rights” and were ending it with mass celebrations for the independence of the mother country of these very same protesting immigrants!

Look, I’m not completely naïve so I will not for one moment underestimate our fellow citizen’s ability to contrive a reason for the consuming of mass amounts of tequila at the end of a hard week, but still you really have got to be impressed. There, in that restaurant, two cultures otherwise divided by skin color, ethnic background and economic circumstance came together as families for the purpose of having a little fun. Does this happen anywhere else in the world? I doubt it.

I walked in the door Friday night with a smile on my face. There are those who will diminish this experience as nothing more than an artificial moment built off of a fake holiday. “Why I bet those people don’t even know what they’re celebrating” these folks will bluster, and on that point they may technically be right.

Where they’re wrong though is in understanding what was really going on. In that room, as in thousands of rooms around the country last Friday Americans of all ethnicities were finding out what assimilation is really all about. Citizenship doesn’t come with the crossing of borders or the passing of tests. It is not built on protest marches or pledges of allegiance. Citizenship is about coming to this country, working hard and making your own way in this world. It’s about learning that to be a true American one doesn’t have to give up their past so much as they must share it with their new friends and neighbors. Through these individual experiences we build a common history that links us all together, and together we point this country towards our common future.

Tomorrow: I solve illegal immigration.

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