• Editor’s note: Following are excerpts from Jim Jung’s July 4, 2019 keynote speech for the American Legion.
Who are Americans?
I believe that we became Americans in July 1868 when the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect.
Section 1 of the 14th Amendment tells us who citizens are: “All persons born or naturalized in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the U.S. and the state wherein they reside.”
Before that all were immigrants to a new land seeking a better life than we had under the rule of tyrant kings. Twelve years earlier, on July 4, 1776, organizers of our new nation wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence teaches us and proclaims: “We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In addition to No Taxation Without Representation, another reason stated in the Declaration of Independence for forming our government was the issue of immigration. English kings prevented the population of our colonies by enacting laws prohibiting naturalization of foreigners and refusing to pass laws to encourage their migration. That’s how strongly our founders felt about welcoming immigrants and treating them equally!
Despite those honorable principles, we hated, at various times, Africans, Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, Muslims, Mexicans and now Guatemalans.
Slavery. Help Wanted Signs – Irish Need Not Apply. Italian concentration camps. German names were unpopular – Liberty House used to have a German name. Chinese Exclusion Act. Japanese interment camps. All Muslims falsely called terrorists and prohibited from entry. All Mexicans falsely called rapists and drug dealers. Guatemalan children snatched from their parents and locked up in cages. Children and babies pitifully crying for their parents who were transported far away from them.
All were immigrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families. Immigrants fleeing from economic hardship and human rights violations. Many seeking asylum from violence.
Why can’t we recognize that they are created equal and treat them with respect?
The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor tells us to “give me your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores; send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
What are we doing now? Building walls instead of bridges. We’re separating young children from their parents. That’s not Americanism, that’s immoral. We’re dividing our people! Whatever happened to our motto: “E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, there is one”?
Winston Churchill once said: “If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided, all will fail!” We should stop making America Hate Again. We should stop bigotry and xenophobia! We should stop hostile tirades and bullying.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not helped in the past. In the Dred Scott case it declared that Negro slaves could never become citizens because they were “property.” Dred Scott was born in the U.S. to parents who were slaves.
In another case, a Chinese baby was born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from China. The Supreme Court ruled that he could not become a citizen because his parents “owed allegiance to the Emperor of China” and thus was not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fortunately that changed in the Wong Kim Ark case holding that children born in the U.S. to immigrants are citizens.
The February 2019 American Legion magazine had an article on Americanism. It says the core of American Legion founders were front-line officers in WWI. A large percentage of WWI troops were conscripted immigrants. Most were uneducated in U.S. government, laws and history.
A top priority of the American Legion was to provide education and citizenship to these immigrants. Racism was specifically denounced.
The American Legion established the U.S. Flag Code and became an ambassador of flag respect, education and protection. This was part of the process of bringing citizenship to these immigrants who fought for a country they didn’t know but wanted to become a part of.
The American Legion served not just veterans and immigrants, but whole communities. The organization taught that veterans should be catalysts to strengthen communities. At one of the national meetings, a speaker declared: “We must continue to serve the country in the same spirit we had in war, and we can do that only if we have every post doing something for its community.”
During the Great Depression, the American Legion fed the poor and unemployed, including immigrants, in their communities. It established youth programs with baseball and Boy Scouts. It promoted education of the Constitution and flag etiquette. It established oratorical contests focusing on the Constitution.
The article concludes with the Legion’s definition of “Americanism.” The magazine article defines “Americanism” as “the living record of what Legionnaires do to improve their communities in thousands of projects.
“True Americanism is an ideology that is continually nurtured within one’s soul through individual daily actions.”
I close with my personal definition of “Americanism.” “Americanism” is “PATRIOTISM: Respect for of our country. Devotion to our country. Love of our country.”
We demonstrate our patriotism by our deeds.
JFK said it best: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for our country.”
Jim Jung is a member of the American Legion and a resident of Kapaa.