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One Nation Indivisible

One Nation Indivisible

By Jerry Gervase

I love the West Coast. I think of living here as living on the edge, pushed to the brink on this golden coastal rim.

Californians show their backs to yesterday. Yesterday is behind us struggling to get a foothold on some craggy Eastern shore. We hold tightly to this day, keep it alive, wring from it the last drop of golden sunshine until it fans out across the taut blue sea and slips softly beneath a fiery rim.

The Fourth of July remains my favorite holiday, with fresh corn slathered with sweet butter, burgers on the barbie, hot dogs, ice cream with strawberries, and anyone who mentions calories and carbs can eat diet books for all I care.

It is a day when it is politically correct to be shamelessly patriotic without worrying that Michael Moore is going to make a documentary about you. You can even mention God in the Pledge of Allegiance without the ACLU rushing to the 9th Circus Court for a restraining order. We celebrate the Fourth very well around here; yet it is a day when the best place to be is an old eastern city — Washington, D.C.

It was 1982, the year the Vietnam Memorial was dedicated. We were visiting relatives in the District and spent the Fourth of July at Independence Mall. There were estimates of the crowd being somewhere between a half million and a million. It was blisteringly hot with almost triple-digit humidity. No one seemed to mind.

The celebrations were orderly with plenty of refreshment stands lining the reflecting pond, music everywhere and enough people dressed in Revolutionary-era costumes to form a new Continental Army. Each person there seemed proud to be an American. We were united.

Then somewhere along the way we became a hyphenated country with a national identity crisis. My forefathers came from Italy, yet I always find it strange when someone refers to me as an Italian-American. I am not ashamed of my heritage but it has little to do with who I am today, except that often I have red sauce stains on my shirtfront.

Italian accomplishments in the arts and sciences are indisputable. Yet, I can no more take credit for the genius of Michelangelo and Galileo than I can accept the blame for the degradations of Mussolini and Capone. To quote that great American sailor and philosopher, Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”

It is understandable that we want our nations of origin to be recognized and remembered. We want to keep alive the traditions that have been handed down to us. So we should celebrate being African-American, or Asian-American, or Mexican-American but at some point shouldn’t we drop the hyphens and become full-time American Americans? We don’t live in the United-States-of-America. We became a nation when the colonies were able to restrain their individualism and work toward the common goal of freedom.

That same summer in Washington I got a preview of the Vietnam Memorial. It is not divided into sections for service people with hyphenated names. It is a memorial to more than 50,000 American Americans. So on the 4th of July be thankful you are living here in freedom. Be proud that many people who sacrificed their lives to ensure our freedom share your ethnicity. Acknowledge them. Cherish them. Wear a smile. Look at Old Glory. Search for the common thread among her stars and stripes that binds us together.

And, at least for one day let’s drop the hyphens and be plain old Americans.

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