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Mar 22, 2016
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The America I Know

Friday, March 18, 2016 - 02:30 PM

This election cycle, I’ve found myself having genuine anxiety dreams, and falling into depressive spells. I’ll be up until 2 or 3 AM, and just….sad. Sad about the language being used to describe people, groups, religions, nations. Sad about how some “Other” is being propped up as a thing to be feared. Sad about how we’re treating each other.

I was sad enough that I couldn’t even bring myself to cartoon, this week. So, as a way of processing that sadness, I wanted to write about it.

Don’t worry: This is not a post to tell you who to vote for, or who not to vote for. Mostly because that never works. Trying to convince others who to vote for is like trying to tell your friend in High School not to date Jimmy diMatteo. No matter what you tell them about Jimmy diMatteo, they’re still gonna date Jimmy diMatteo. Except now they’re gonna be mad at you while they date Jimmy diMatteo, because you told them not to date Jimmy diMatteo.

So this isn’t a political post. We’re not going to be talking about parties, or policies, or politicians. I just want to tell you about the Americans I know and love on my street. Because — purely by coincidence — my street is a wonderful microcosm of the America our children should grow up in.

These are the families in the four immediate houses around mine:

- A Catholic Filipino family, who escaped the dictator Marcos in the 1980’s

- A Persian Shia family, who escaped the Iranian revolution in the 1970’s

- A Lutheran minister of German descent, whose family came in the 1870’s during the great European migration

- An atheist family from Scotland, who came in the 1980’s

And then my family, who escaped the deaths of the Irish potato famine, and the deaths of Castro’s Cuba, to come to America. My family, who started here as day laborers, so that their children could go to college, so that their grandchildren could be leaders of their fields.

These are the five HUGELY DIFFERENT families I want to focus in on. Because we all get along, and watch out for one another, and help raise one another’s kids. My Shia neighbors gave my children Christmas gifts, and we’ll be giving theirs Nowruz chocolates on the 20th. We talk, we laugh, we have neighborly bickerings. All normal. All respectful. All backed up by decency, and by kindness.

And because I’ve known them for years now, I’ve seen the large and small ways they've made their community a better place. I don’t know if all of their families have papers (Ha! Mine certainly didn’t: We snuck in on a boat from Ireland, then through Canada, like the sneaky family we are), but they are all wonderful people, and I am proud to call them neighbors.

In my childrens’ classes, I hear *first generation* accents from Russia, China, Haiti, England, Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Japan and more. How many countries in the world can boast a classroom like that? It’s the greatest chorus to hear. And it’s the best lesson I can imagine for my kids. You know that quote “people who don’t read books, are doomed to live only one life?” I think the same is true for living in sameness. If you only meet one type of face, or one faith, or one way of doing things…you’ve only lived one life. But in America, we get to sample the world. America takes it all in, celebrates it, and makes it its own.

For example: In the past five years, I’ve been to plenty of same-faith weddings. But I’ve also been, rather delightfully, to Jewish-Catholic weddings. To Coptic-Protestant weddings. To Buddhist-Evangelical weddings. And the kids from these unions are among the most beautiful you could ask for: Korean/African, Haitian/Irish, Egyptian-German/Chinese. Gorgeous children, with bright, beautiful faces to match their bright, beautiful futures. And again, how rare and wonderful in human history to even find such kids? In America, it's not a historical anomaly. It happens all. The. Time.

That’s the America I know. That’s the America I see from my street.

And you might be saying, “Yeah, but you live in a major city, and hang out in artist circles. That’s some Stepford version of America.” No…it’s not. And if it seems that way to you, I can tell you it doesn’t have to seem that way. Speaking as someone who has travelled to *ALL* 50 states, to 5 Canadian provinces, to 3 Mexican states, and 14 countries in Europe….I can tell you there is something truly unique, and kind, and decent about this country. It holds a unique place in human history. This is a nation of good people, from all backgrounds and faiths, who genuinely want to see one another succeed in their own individuality. The foundational premise of this country is so radical that we tend to forget about it. Tend to take it for granted. But when this country is operating at its best, it truly is a shining city on a hill. This country is the greatest social experiment in the history of humanity — and though it comes from a divisive past, whose demons can be resurrected at a moments notice — this social experiment is still working. The arc of its history bends toward betterment, toward making a more perfect union.

But it’s never guaranteed to continue.

Every generation has had its faults, and every generation has had to remind themselves of the debt they owe this country, and the work they need to personally do to keep the country whole. Brave soldiers are not the only way we protect the idea of America. It’s also in kind acts of decency that we protect this country: In a civil public life. In a willingness to hear opposing viewpoints. In a willingness for the majority to protect the minority.

But to paraphrase Churchill, hate gets halfway around the world before kindness has a chance to get its pants on. So this is our time to actively, actively, actively promote decency. Its a shame to even have to say it out loud, but we need to be decent to one another. To be kind.


[Click image to read]

This is a moment of clarity. And I guess I’m begging you, as a friend would: Be kind. I know it sounds naive, I know it sounds wide-eyed, but be kind.

The Persian, Filipino, German, Scottish, and Irish/Cuban families on my street will thank you.

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I invite you all to post about the America you know, below. But I’m begging you: No politics. No mention of parties, politics, policies, or politicians. The forums of CNN, MSNBC, Breitbart, and Fox News provide enough of that. If you feel the need to do anything other than share the positives of the America you know…please, post it elsewhere. My heart needs optimism and basic kindness right now. And I suspect a great many of you need the same.

So again: Please, no politics or politicians in your comments. No negativity. No unkind words. I’m asking you all, as friends. At least in this one place online, be kind.

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Flaco
March 2016
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