This year's 4th of July was a most memorable one for me. My wife and I had the honor of attending the Citizenship Ceremony for new Americans at the William Paca [pronounced PayKa] House & Gardens in Annapolis, Maryland. What struck me most about the event was that these 38 new Americans understand better than many native born Americans what being an American really means. Each of them left a life, a family, and a cultural heritage to join us in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."For we Americans, there is nothing very unusual about that. Every human being in North America is either an immigrant, or descended directly from someone who was. This is true of even so-called "native Americans," since there were no human beings at all in North or South America before 13,000 years ago, a virtual blink in human existence.I often ask my fellow Americans what one factor above all others is the reason for the strength and success of the United States of America. Few have a clear-cut answer. I believe our strength is our Diversity, which I see as the Glory of God.Unlike monolithic societies, where one person or group dominates everyone in various nefarious ways, in the United States we have hundreds of groups of very different national origin, religions, races, and points of view. Whenever one of these groups has a good idea, everyone adopts it.
I use Starbucks as my example of a good idea, which is now adopted globally. Whenever a bad idea emerges, the other groups pound it out of the system by vigorous debate. It is a tempering process, like that used in making steel. Slavery is my example of a bad idea.The day was made more special for me by sharing it with our guest, Lama Phurbu Tashi Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and a refugee, who plans to be another new American in a couple of years. Watching him interact with the period costumed actors representing the 1st Maryland Regiment and the Colonial Ladies was a particular treat. Because of his saffron and purple robes, many at the event, including the news media, thought he was one of the day's honorees, so he was interviewed several times.The Director of the Baltimore office of the Immigration Service told us that they create new citizens every day-18,000 or so in Maryland each year. But this event on the 4th of July is a particularly meaningful occasion.
The venue in the William Paca House & Gardens is within a block of the 1st Capitol building of the United States, the Maryland State House.William Paca was one of 4 signers of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland. Whenever I give visitors tours of Annapolis, I always point out the magnificent mansions of these courageous men, to show what they were putting at risk when they signed the document. They were committing treason against the British Crown, and, as Benjamin Franklin put it succinctly, "We either hang together or we will hang separately!"After the ceremony, I mentioned to one of the new Americans that, as an American, I am very proud of them, because they know the meaning of being an American better than many of our native born countrymen. I told one, "You know what it means to be an American, so if we forget, you remind us!"