The No. 1 focus of my volunteer time and charitable giving is the Refugee Development Center which exists to support in our community those who have been displaced from their native countries by bigotry, hatred and violence.
Two years ago, RDC started a soccer team – called “Newcomers” – for the elementary school aged children of one of the neighborhoods in which our refugees have settled. As I’ve written here before, it took most of a full season for this team to score its first goal, longer for it to earn a tie and still longer to win a game.
After the earliest few practices it was apparent that none on the team had much playing experience. Many of the players had only recently escaped persecution where playing games would have had no place. It was also apparent at the outset that the players had little experience with the dynamics of teamwork, and language differences added to the difficulties.
After several lopsided losses, some of the Newcomers complained that “they needed some Americans on the team.” But our patient coaches had just the right response. They said, “You are Americans.”
Indeed; these Newcomers are as American as I am. Ours is, in fact, a nation of newcomers which, in spite of some serious slights and several significant sins, has welcomed all the world’s people.
As my wife and I travel to other countries, we hear their citizens talk with admiration about the opportunity and stability of “America,” which they seem to prefer to call us rather than the “United States.”
The 20-year-old student from South Korea/Philippines/China whom we are hosting in our home for two years is amazed at the diversity of skin color and dress she sees in our town. She is amazed that she could attend a church of a different denomination in our community almost every week of the year; and she is equally amazed at the openness of government and media and the tolerance America has for different opinions on any topic.
The America that I celebrate on this Independence Day is the one that strives to be independent of tyranny, bigotry, intolerance and hatred and, because it sees its connection to humanity everywhere, remains a nation whose arms are open wide to the world.