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American Heritage

Thomas Dorman, of Ipswich, was officially awarded the title of “Freeman” of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634, 14 years after the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. Thomas was born around 1600, although where is not certain. Most likely it was England. In 1651, Thomas bought a farm in Topsfield in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He died in 1670. His descendants include a number of patriots who fought the British in the American Revolution and even more who fought for the Union in the American Civil War. I am a direct descendant of Thomas Dorman, catalogued in the two-volume book, Thomas Dorman of Topsfield, Massachusetts (1600-1670): Twelve Generations of Descendants, written by Franklin Abbot Dorman and published by Heritage Books, Inc.

On my mother’s side, my heritage is a little murkier, but appears to stem from the immigration of the Lusk family to America in the mid-1700s from Ireland, as well as the Casey family, which arrived about a century later from Ireland.

On both sides of my family, the history of my family in America is centuries old.

My children are part native Hawaiian, their grandfather, a Hawaiian, having migrated to the mainland from Hawaii, which was not then a state, during WWII.

My wife arrived in America in 1989 from Vietnam, a refugee who spent two years in refugee camps after escaping from Saigon. She became a United States citizen in 1995. Her brother and his family arrived in 2006 and became citizens in 2012.

My children, my wife and her family members, and I are equally Americans. So are my friends, who themselves or their parents immigrated to the U.S. in the last several decades as Buddhists from Cambodia or Japan, as Taoists  or Christians from China, as Catholics or Buddhists from Vietnam, as Catholics from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala, as Muslims from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and Senegal, as Jews from Israel, or as Hindus from India. I was raised a Christian, but I am no more American than they are.  Once someone or his ancestors has arrived, and becomes a U.S. citizen, we all are equally Americans. We, or our ancestors, are all immigrants. I have a few Native American friends. They can legitimately claim that they are not immigrants. But the rest of us are. The America that I recognize and value is made up of immigrants and sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants from all over the world and worshipping many different faiths.

America, was well as Europe, has struggled with what it means for immigrants to assimilate into our existing society. It used to mean that new arrivals gave up their native language, their cultural practices, often their religion, and became indistinguishable from the larger population. But this has changed. First of all, the larger society is no longer one monolithic entity with one religion, one language, one set of cultural practices. Second, studies of what is called by sociologists the “new model of assimilation” have shown that many immigrant groups bring with them cultural practices that add to, rather than detract from our society. Many Asian groups, for instance foster a greater value of education and academic achievement than do European heritage groups. Hispanic immigrants, particularly from Mexico, have practices that enhance health outcomes beyond those reached by European ancestry Americans. When these immigrant groups adopt more American cultural practices and pass them down to next generations, some of the advantages they arrived with dissipate. It is now recognized that there may be an advantage to the society as a whole in adopting some of the cultural practices brought to our country by recent immigrants and helping them to see the advantage of keeping such practices alive.

My favorite food is curry. I also love tacos, Guinness beer, and recently, my favorite spectator sport has become soccer. At least half of the films I watch at home with my wife on Netflix are “international” and have to be subtitled in English for us to understand them. Our local communities have annual international celebrations, in which those whose origins are from other countries dress in the traditional clothing of their mother country, provide samples of their countries’ foods and entertain with dances and music from their ancestral lands.

What a land we live in!

America is a country where immigrants have thrived. It is a country where diverse ethnic and national backgrounds provide the variegated tapestry that makes daily life interesting. We are a country where everyone needs to work to understand each other’s values and traditions in order for the society to work smoothly. That’s what America is.

There are people and groups in America who want to deny our diversity. They want to restrict new immigrants to only those whose religion matches that of the majority. They want to prohibit cultural practices that look and feel different from those they are used to in their own communities. They want to label whole populations of immigrants from certain parts of the world as lazy or criminal. They want to put up walls to keep immigrants out and to deny asylum to refugees from wars that have left them homeless and destitute.

What these people want is not the America I have learned to value. We are not a White nation. We are not a Christian nation. We are not a “born in the USA” nation. We are a nation of immigrants and we should remain one. That is our strength.


Reader Comments (4)

Needless to say, perhaps, I as an immigrant subscribe to Casey's views. I want to add that as the child of a father baptized into the Greek-Orthodox church (against his protests, he always insisted) and a Jewish mother who despised orthodoxies of any kind, I practice no faith. The bigotry against non-believers is as virulent as it is against immigrants. I don't know that America has ever been entirely kind, but I'm convinced that it needs to become ever more tolerant in order not to destroy itself from within.

July 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Lovely piece, Casey. When I was a little girl we lived in an apartment across the street from a Chinese Laundry. Mary Lee, whose parents could speak very little English became my closest friend throughout my life. The Chinese laundry was around the corner from Sherman's drugstore owned by Mr. and Mrs. Sherman who were Jewish. Next to the drugstore was Tempkin's grocery store owned by Mr. Tempkin, a Russian Jew. Next to Tempkin's was a TV repair shack whose owner was from Lebenon. Across the street was a German "Beer Depot" whose daughter had some German name like Ernela. Mary Lee and I acted out "Cinderella" with the Pizzo kids whose family was from Italy, and the Kanich kids. Frankie Wojciiechowski threw rocks at us to get our attention. He told us to pronounce his name like "Where's your house key". And there were the McCormicks and the O'Maher's and one Mexican family who had just moved in. My family was barely middle class, but I was enriched with the culture around me.
In 1957, Eva Marsvari and her family arrived from Hungary because of the political danger for them in that country. Eva actually became the valedictorian of our class, but Sister Mary Margaret thought it would be better if I gave the 8th grade graduation speech because Eva who, in fact received the highest grade point average, "didn't speak clear enough English"! I should have refused and stood up for her as people had stood up for us - just as your essay is doing.

July 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Anca: I agree. Bias and prejudice against non-believers is very prominent in the U.S. As an atheist, I don't feel it everyday by any means, but if I were running for office, I would not be elected. If I announce it before giving my opinion, many people will no listen to me. The fact that so many people think I'm simply deluded, or that I don't know what I really believe ("but I know that underneath that, you really are spiritual, you're just denying it") probably saves me from being attacked.

July 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

Beautiful story, Billie. That's the kind of America that we all value.

July 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

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