It may be widely assumed that the millions of immigrants who have flocked to this country, legally or not, flee their own homes because of oppression there and freedom here. That’s probably a safe assumption and certainly the one promoted now and throughout history. But everything is not politics, and there are many more advantages that others seek in leaving their places of origin.
Historically, and even now, they come in families, waves of related people who plan and devise their excursions together. Minus statistical analysis, it seems reasonable to assume that individuals rarely journey alone thousands of miles in squalid conditions to plant themselves, again alone, in some dark and damp tenement. The current tensions on the Mexican border invariably involve the treatment of families, children especially, and the fate of mothers and fathers as heads of large households.
Families invariably do things together, and politics is not exactly what keeps them growing and content in new environments. In this context, there are cultural and non-political explanations that not only inspire long and arduous journeys but also keep the new citizens satisfied in their new surroundings.
What’s To See?
Is there anything attractive in America that might interest such large numbers of newcomers, who lack language, educational, vocational, and other skills that citizens take for granted?
Fortunately, the journal National Review, founded in 1955 by the late William F. Buckley Jr., has published a remarkable edition recently (September 9) that explores this important, but largely ignored, advantage of coming here. Entitled “What We Love About America,” this edition contains 31 short essays by columnists of the journal on the varied nonpolitical, geographic, social, sports, and otherwise cultural components of the country that has the world’s only subtitle “nation of immigrants.”
One votes every few years, and most newcomers are not addicted to party politics. What do they do in their spare time? The answer: the same as you do, as I do, and as is available to every individual, whether their people came on the Mayflower or just arrived from Guatemala.
They have fun. So what’s “so funny” about America. Answer: everything.
One of the delights of this issue allows the reader to judge his/her favorite pastimes against the ones chosen by the authors. The expanse is wide, which, incidentally, reveals the unique and unrivaled cultural attributes that give life, literally, to the expression, “from sea to shining sea.”
Land and People
If there is an emphasis, it is, as explained in the opening essay by Jonah Goldberg, in the geography, the “bigness” as he puts it. To be sure, there are countries that are bigger or equivalent, Canada, China, Russia, Brazil, India but, sorry about that, nobody wants to go there. While it is now fashionable to critique the past for its treatment of native Indians (and this can be justified), there is little doubt that the settlers who came west built a “colossus” that would have never happened if nomadic tribes remained in control. One of the greatest dates in American history is May 10, 1869 when the transcontinental railroad united with a golden spike at Promontory, Utah.
The expanse of America continues to attract followers by the millions. Having the freedom to go is essential, but once there can be unforgettable, from the towering Rockies, the national parks, sunny Florida, Hollywood, New England autumns, rural Alabama, noisy Manhattan. This is also contagious, affecting the “American spirit” in the process. Goldberg puts it well, “America is also large of spirit. Foreigners know this and will often tell you this. … What Texans and Californians are to other Americans, Americans are to much of the world.”
The issue is littered with other essays on this theme: connecting highways (Wilhelm), parks and historic sites (DeSanctis), preserved homes (Magnet), the Capitol (Charen), Maine (Dougherty), New York (Lopez), Las Vegas (Williamson).
Music, entertainment, sports, and recreation occupy many of the others. One, in particular, caught my attention. Perhaps there is nothing more revealing about the country than its movies and the “stars” (think John Wayne, “The Duke”). Westerns were especially popular from the beginning, both in the theater and, later, on TV. Terry Teachout’s piece on these, like the essay on geography, tells why western movies lifted an American “spirit” beyond myth and into accepted “reality,” whether it was “real” or not. “But if it isn’t all true,” he notes, “neither is it all false, and there is something both beautiful and vitally important in the perfect simplicity of the story that these films collectively tell.”
Sports is another connection between the land and the people. When I was a boy, the NBA (basketball) had six teams, all east of the Mississippi. One was my hometown, Syracuse, NY; another was our neighbor, Rochester. Now the NBA has 32 teams, from coast to coast. I saw the first black player ever to integrate the league, Earl Lloyd, a name unknown to almost everyone. Now the NBA has around 80% black players, most of whom make in the millions annually. Their games, including playoffs, are viewed nationally by millions as well.
There are several articles on sports in the issue. One, by Richard Lowry, also reminded me of my youth. Before televised games, baseball was broadcast everywhere by radio (Ronald Reagan began this way). I remember listening at night with my tiny radio in bed as Mel Allen did the Yankees play-by-play. Lowry did too: “Baseball on the radio remains an iconic American sound. One hopes that if … archaeologists generations from now ever have to strain to recover what American civilization was like, they will stumble upon a recording of at least a couple of innings called by Mel Allen or Jon Miller.”
Next time, you watch the news about how politicians always lie, turn it off and click on the ballgame. That’s where the real country is.