Wednesday, August 17, 2016

American Success Stories

Although you're seeing this post sometime in August, I'm in the past, writing it on July 4, 2016, some 240 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I mention this fact because it has a direct bearing on what you're about to read.

Earlier today, I had my iPod on shuffle, and Desi Arnaz's "Babalu" started playing. I'm a fan of I Love Lucy, and, having seen the entire series several times through, I can't help but know a few of Arnaz's more famous tunes, including this quintessential one. The song itself, though, isn't what interests me right now. Rather, Arnaz himself does.

He was what I consider to be an American success story. Born to a prominent family inn Cuba but thrust unexpectedly into straitened circumstances during a revolution, he found himself in Miama as a youth and then took up the business of entertainment. He of course met and married Lucille Ball a few years later, and the rest--as they say--is history. Everyone in America must know his name, or at least his face, by now. Not so bad for an immigrant, a non-native English speaker, and a man who dared to marry a white girl and (gasp!) flaunt their relationship on national television.

Thinking of Arnaz leads me to Richard Blanco, another Cuban making his way in America in another, but still contentious, time. Blanco was born in Spain and brought to America by parents who, like the Arnaz family, were fleeing political issues. A civil engineer and writer by training, Blanco was selected to recite a poem at the 2013 presidential inauguration (Barack Obama's second time swearing in). This was an excellent choice for several reasons: not only did Blanco give a flawless reading of his "One Today," but he also represented the changing face of America. For Blanco is an immigrant, yes, and a Latino, but also a gay man. This was a truly monumental moment, and again, I consider Blanco to be an American success story.

In keeping with the artistic bent of these musings so far, I turn to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the nearly inescapable face of Broadway in 2016. While born in America, Miranda comes from Puerto Rican stock. And he is a man who has done a few things all at once: brought attention to musical theater, triggered discussions about American history among people who might not otherwise find it an interesting topic, and dedicated his stage to the showcasing of non-white talent. Moreover, he has gotten away with all of these things through a combination of talent and commitment, which are rare enough personality traits in the public sphere nowadays. What could make his American success story more successful? Maybe only getting his face on a Wheaties box.

You've surely noticed a trend here: each of these men is Latino.

I believe in inclusion. American culture overwhelmingly privileges white people and can be ridiculously appropriative, and diversity of any kind often seems to be an impossible dream. But the United States would not be what it is today without the contributions of people from every racial, ethnic, and sexuality-based background. Unfortunately, for each person calling for a wider variety of viewpoints and a higher level of tolerance or activism, we hear another voice full of vitriol and anger, blaming non-whites--and particularly immigrants--for the perceived woes of our society.

This is unacceptable to me. And it should be unacceptable to you as well. This is America. It's meant to be the land of the free. So why are we, as a nation, working so hard to suppress diversity? We need the white people, the brown people, the black people, the blue people, the gay people, the straight people, the Christians and Jews and Muslims and Democrats and Republicans and even the anarchists, probably. Because we the people are all people, supposedly born equal (or made so as immigrants) under the law.

I've only given three examples here, but there are countless more worth researching and promoting. Those breaking down barriers, crossing lines that represented certain death in the past, marching in order to make themselves and their brethren heard, speaking out when the opportunity presents itself, fighting for what they believe is right, working to recover what was taken from them.

In the event that you haven't looked at a calendar recently, I would like to remind you that it is 2016. And it is long past time to let everyone be heard, respected, and included, and I cannot stress that enough.


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