(Published in the Oklahoman electronic version, February 1, 2017 https://www.oklahoman.com/login?referer=/article/5536385?nok_redirect=yes)
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt…” Leviticus 19:34
The plight of the passenger ship the MS St. Louis in 1939 was portrayed in the movie “Voyage of the Damned.” The ship departed Hamburg, carrying 937 Jews fleeing violent anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. After being denied entry to Cuba, United States, and Canada, it was forced to return to Europe. Many of its passengers perished in the Holocaust.
The recent executive order by Donald Trump to deny entry to the United States to people from certain countries with Muslim majority is a painful reminder that virulent xenophobia is alive and well. We are poised to turn away refugees from the most atrocious war crimes and human rights violations committed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, Iran, and Sudan.
Before we try to Make America Great Again, let’s ask ourselves what makes (or made) America great. “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One) is a 13-letter traditional motto appearing on the Great Seal of the United States of America and on more than 86 trillion dimes. The phrase suggests that out of many peoples, races, religions, languages, and ancestries has emerged a single people and nation (our Melting Pot).
Some of the most astute and poignant observations of our country have been made by foreigners. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is a common assigned reading in college and has been termed “the best book ever written on democracy and on America”.
Even less articulate foreigners, many of whom have immigrated here from all corners of the earth, can clearly describe the greatness of this country. I can. Thirty-five years ago, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance along with 300 other ecstatic naturalized citizens, in a courtroom in Texas. The sheer exhilaration and euphoria I felt when the ceremony concluded was unimaginable.
In a cab from the St. Louis airport last summer, I heard the Muslim call to prayer on the radio. “You are either from Sudan or from Somalia,” I good-humoredly told the driver. Impressed and pleased, the driver told me about his plight from the Sudan. Pluralism- an ex-Israeli, a Sudanese, in the Gateway to the West state…
So never mind me, who unwaveringly thinks that America is great already. Ask more prominent people (or their relatives) about what makes this country great. Ask Iman, Christiane Amanpour, Jerry Seifeld, Albert Einstein, Hakeem Olaijuwan, Natalie Portman, Nadia Comaneci, Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla, Charlize Theron, Jackie Chan, Carlos Santana, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Gene Simmons… They are all immigrants or offsprings of immigrants.
So which would our new America be- the one recreating the Voyage of the Damned, or the one that continues to embrace “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Emma Lazarus)
Eli Reshef, MD, practices medicine in Oklahoma City