Independence Day, when we get together to commemorate the Declaration of Independence and to celebrate all things American. Our country has really come a long way since rebellious colonists threw off the shackles of monarchical rule in the 18th century. From a humble agrarian nation, it has grown to be the dominant military and economic superpower on the globe. Its cultural, political, and commercial influence is felt in every nation on earth.
Over the course of its rise to prominence, America has been known for, perhaps more than any of its many idiosyncrasies, its willingness to welcome foreign immigrants. The seeds of this ethos were firmly sown by the first Independence Day in 1776. Many of the first European settlers of North America came to escape poverty, religious persecution, and even political violence. These settlers brought with them a real sense of empathy for the plight of outsiders.
Thus, immigration became a defining feature of the American experience throughout its history. Immigrant labor was responsible for many of the great American achievements of the 19th century. Chinese immigrants laid the first intercontinental railroad, German and Italian natives built the longest suspension bridge in the world connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn for the first time, and the Irish dug the longest canal in the world in upstate New York enabling commerce between New York City and the Great Lakes.
Immigrants founded some of the greatest American companies: U.S. Steel, Levi-Straus, AT&T, DuPont, Proctor &Gamble, Yahoo!, Google . . . These firms created technologies that transformed standards of living the world-over and provided millions of good jobs to American workers. The success of immigrants in America was so profound as to provide an impetus for the moniker ‘the Land of Opportunity’.
Successive waves of immigrants have come and assimilated into American society. Each one bringing with it new ideas, philosophies, religions, inventions, and traditions. All of these have shaped the nation into the one we know and celebrate today.
Of course, this is not to say that Americans have always and everywhere welcomed immigrants with open arms. Racism, xenophobia, protectionism, and plain old-fashioned intolerance have reared their ugly head in America, as they have everywhere in the world where people from different places, who speak different languages, or practice different faiths try to live and work together. But Americans have traditionally managed to move beyond our differences.
In many ways the success of the American experiment can be attributed to our willingness to welcome immigrants into our midst and to incorporate their perspectives into our national identity. Independence Day is a chance for us to reflect on what we love about America. Surely, our ability to incorporate individuals from all over the world into our society is one of our best features. Indeed, today America is home to 50 million immigrants, more than the next four nations combined. This Independence Day, reflect on how your ancestors came to live in ‘the Land of Opportunity’ and on how we can keep the opportunities abundant for all who seek them.