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American Values, Immigrants and Land of Opportunity

ICAS
American Values, Immigrants and Land of Opportunity

August 6, 2005
Becky Norton Dunlop

Becky Norton Dunlop with Synja Kim (ICAS) & Shinae Chun
(Director of the Women’s Bureau, US Dept of Labor)

Good evening. Thank you, for that kind introduction, Chairman Synja Kim, for the wonderful honor of the award that will bear my name, and for your generous welcome.

I extend my warmest congratulations to the award winners today. To be honored for your excellent work about the ideas and values that are so timeless and important is both memorable and significant.

I am delighted to share with you tonight a few thoughts about a topic that is high on the list of policy issues that our political leaders are facing today and very personal to those of us here today. This subject is immigration, American Values and the Land of Opportunity.

The United States is a nation of immigrants…it was founded by immigrants, and today it is made up of immigrants and descendents of immigrants with the exception of the native Americans whose ancestors peopled these shores when the Mayflower landed and when Jamestown was founded and those African-Americans whose ancestors were brought to America as slaves. What is it about our country that still draws so many from elsewhere to our shores? Do they want to become Americans or just come to the land of opportunity for purely economic reasons? Is our country still the “melting pot” that it was once labeled or has it become a “mosaic?” Are we all Americans who bring with us customs of a distant land but forge new customs as Americans or are there those determined to fashion little nation-states within the borders of the United States divided by culture, religion, language and social customs. What is it that unites us? Will we continue to be a nation that truly lives our motto “E pluribus Unum,” out of many, one?

These are questions that are discussed in political, policy and legal circles and neighborhoods too today. Well, I believe that certain values do unite we Americans and I am going to share briefly with you four elements that have been evident about the people who have become Americans through our history. They were eloquently expressed by William E. Simon Jr. at a lecture he gave recently at the Heritage Foundation:

First, becoming American meant that new arrivals saw themselves as individuals rather than as members of groups. Our first President George Washington spoke to this when he noted that America was open to all but they should settle as individuals ready for “intermixture with our people” and “assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become our people.” The Honorable Shinae Chun is a beautiful example of this…she is now a very senior official in the Government of the United States of America because she was a successful American citizen in the American business world and then in government…she is an American who happens to be from Korea.

Second, becoming American meant that new arrivals saw themselves looking forward rather than looking backward. John Quincy Adams, our sixth President, said about immigrants that “they must look forward to their posterity rather than backward to their ancestors.” We all have cultural customs that are part of our make-up, part of our heritage but when we really become Americans, we take unto ourselves the celebration of American customs, the Fourth of July, President’s Day, Memorial Day, having one wife, joining voluntary associations to accomplish goals we find to be important, and saluting our flag, our American flag with the Pledge of Allegiance. And, these are just a few examples of which there are many more.

Third, becoming American was seen as a matter of beliefs rather than birth and blood, a matter of heart and mind rather than race and ancestry. President Franklin Roosevelt said, “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy.” And, Franklin Roosevelt was a Democrat so you see that Americanism is not partisan. 

Fourth, becoming American was seen as transformative rather than preservative. This is what we mean when we talk about the melting pot…people from many nations, with different languages, different religious beliefs, different political backgrounds and different customs and cooking traditions…all coming together and making a new people. A new people that come together and form a new culture adopting English as their primary language, agreeing that the freedom to worship is right and worthy of defending, participating in a new representative form of government, and adopting new customs or making them. Indeed, agreeing to work and play side by side with others who may have come from the opposite side of the world. Like George, here whose ancestors came from Scotland, and Dr. Sang Joo Kim whose family was from Corea. We are all Americans now…setting a course for the future together while honoring customs from our heritage.

Now, as we begin the 21st Century, we who are Americans have a great challenge before us. The United States of America is the Land of Opportunity. Millions from other lands seek to come to our country to live, work and benefit from the freedom we enjoy and the traditions we embrace as Americans. We must work diligently to maintain this great experiment we call the United States by tackling the challenges of immigration our nation faces today.

Our Land of Opportunity must remain open and welcoming to those who want to become Americans. Immigrants are great and precious assets to our national fabric and we must plan and execute effective policies to assimilate them into this nation as citizens. They must enjoy individual rights and freedoms, be part of our free enterprise system, and benefit from our traditions; but they also must become citizens in the full sense of the word. They must do exactly what you young people have done, become educated about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship and the traditions that set this nation apart from all others. Of course, the very essence of American citizenship revolves around God-given freedoms, respect for the laws that a free people establish to protect those freedoms, and abiding by those laws. So, let us always remember that American citizenship requires education and understanding about our American values, our traditions and laws. And, there must be an individual commitment to these so that our great republic might continue to prosper. Immigrants instilled with American values and traditions will assure a bright future for this land of opportunity we call the United States of America. God bless our citizens and our nation.

Mrs. Dunlop awarding Alex Kim, Jennifer Kim and Joseph Lee the Becky Norton Dunlop ICAS Youth Excellence Award.