Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Getting to know you

America today reached the 300 mark. The 300 million mark in population, that is. Okay, that's plenty. Let's now try to concentrate on keeping what resources we have plentiful for the lucky ones that are here. That bias revealed, I return to my observations on the subject of what being an American means.

Having lived in the homogeneous white American suburbs all my life it's no surprise I am fascinated when I encounter people speaking other languages. Truthfully, I am often uneasy. Most commonly it is Spanish, but here in the ski resort community of Summit County you are likely to hear languages you can't recognize. At the supermarket there are many employees of North Africa who speak Pulaar. They are very dark-skinned and I guessed, in my ignorance, that they were Nigerian. I have since learned they are North Africans who fled their country of Mauritania due to political unrest. There are probably 100 or so here. Although they are Muslim, they are in conflict with the Arabs who for centuries have been pushing the indigenous black Africans out of their homeland--just like every other conflict in the history of man. They have found refuge in Silverthorne working in the service industry alongside the Hispanics.

A couple of years ago, in post 9/11 heightened attention to foreign-born Muslims, authorities raided the Africans' newly-formed mosque looking for two specific illegals. Three individuals were detained. The others were here legally, having been granted political asylum. Some complained to the press of being treated harshly and suspected that their humble mosque (in a rented apartment) provoked the investigation. One one hand, America is trying to take proactive measures against security threats; one the other, innocent individuals get harassed. And although I am sorry for anyone's "harassment," I do believe we have a right to be proactive about security. Foreigners need not get outraged at this. Too bad. Consider any inconvenience or misunderstanding as a right of initiation and be happy to help us root out the bad guys.

I believe the Mauritanian refugees of the City Market are decent people. The gentle Africans who scan and bag my groceries are working hard to make lives of security and peace in America. Seeing them every other day as I pick up milk or bread, I grow more familiar with them. They smile at me and Allison, speak English to us wishing us a good day. At the laundromat where I go to wash an oversized comforter I say hello to two friendly gentlemen busy sorting their laundry. One comments on the snow and I think, Oh, Russian. But I could be wrong. He could be Ukrainian, or Lithuanian, or from Belarus. A mother watching her two small children while folding flannel pajamas and blankets must be Mexican as well as the dark-haired guy washing his work clothes. We are all just people attending to common tasks. Whether we are eating a sandwich next door at the Blue Moon Bakery, or pumping gas, or picking our kids up from school--we're just people. It is really about becoming more familiar. The more we see and understand of each other the less apprehension we have towards one another.

I am sure the refugees from Mauritania are not plotting to overthrow Silverthorne. I'm fairly certain the Mexicans making the beds at the resort hotels aren't trying to bilk the government, and I think the Ukrainian clerks at the gift stores in Breckenridge are here only for the skiing. We all know we have a good thing here in America. Granted, in some places there are pockets of ill-meaning folks like the La Raza groups who want to "reconquer" America for Mexico and we do have a serious illegal immigration issue, but for the most part the immigrants I see are working hard at their jobs adapting well to the American way. They give themselves away by their native languages, but in most other ways they fit in. Nobody here is out waving the flags of their homeland. The only flag-waving I see is that of the Stars and Stripes. New town banners just went up on the major roads through Dillon sporting the single image of the American flag. And the ever faithful Brother Nathaniel, a Jew for Jesus who daily from the intersection of Highway 9 and Wildernest Road blesses the traffic with a crucifix in one hand, occasionally includes a giant American flag in the other. So from my perspective, at least from this little county, it appears that everyone is busy being or becoming an American.

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