Thoughts on what makes us Americans

three images consisting of immigration stamp for August 2007, calculator on notebook, and purple grapes on a vineImmigration – Not too long ago (at least in terms of Western civilization) the parcel of land that is the modern-day United States was undeveloped and home to many different indigenous tribes. European explorers from several nations stumbled across this new land and conquered much of the east coast, divesting ownership from the native tribes, thereby becoming the occupants and citizens of this new territory. England had a stronghold in the northeast until the occupants of those territories became fed up with being ruled by the monarchy and started the American Revolution, divesting England of its ownership of this land and changing the citizenship of the occupants from British to American. Following the Revolutionary War, the new Americans migrated westward, forcefully taking land from different European nations as well as from the remaining indigenous tribes, changing the citizenship of those occupants to American.

None of this is meant to be a judgment – just an oversimplification of basic facts of how America became a country and who its ever-changing citizens were, and to demonstrate the uniqueness we have as Americans in that we are not a homogeneous civilization that has occupied these lands since inception.

My daughter represents the fifth generation of my American roots; in 1910 my Irish great-grandparents came here, and my Italian ones in 1913 (thanks Ancestry.com!). Soon after arriving here and gaining American citizenship, my family (like many) served their new country. My Irish grandfather served during World War II, my Italian great-uncle served during the Korean War, an uncle of mine on the Irish side (through marriage) served during the Vietnam War, and I served during the Cold War. This is remarkable if you think about it, as so many immigrants have been willing to immediately risk and give their lives to protect and defend this new country of theirs called America.

Why, you may ask, would they? They were not defending their motherland, a monarchy that had been in place for centuries, or sacred or hallowed ground. No, these patriots were defending an idea – a hope that a better, more equal, more just place could exist in this world, where opportunities were plentiful and accomplishments were limitless.  And that belief, that idea, has created the most remarkable social experiment in the history of humanity with one constant goal: freedom. Freedom is what every American serviceman and woman has given their life to defend, and the belief in freedom in both civil liberties and in the marketplace is what I believe makes us American.

My fear is that we, as Americans, have forgotten this. We have forgotten that America, and that being “American,” really has nothing to do with this land we now occupy; it has to do with the Constitution and having the right and liberty to spend our lives becoming who and what we choose to become. The idea of America and freedom, by its very nature, needs to exist and flow in limitless fashion, unhampered by boundaries and walls.

Yes, our freedom has enemies that we need to vigorously defend ourselves and others against, and yes, we must hold our own accountable and ensure that we are all contributing and producing to the very best of our abilities. But we must continue to allow as many different people from as many different cultures as we can come and experience this idea, this dream called America, so that its concept of freedom can grow and spread across all cultures and societies, giving all of humanity a fighting chance. That is our duty as Americans.

I am fully aware that immigration policy is complicated and has many implications regarding our economy and safety. I am not advocating that we expand or change our policy in any way that would hurt either of these variables, as doing so would only hurt our freedom. But I am asking, at a bare minimum, that our elected officials remember that we are all immigrants, that immigration policies be decided and administered in a humane manner, and that we look for ways to increase the exposure that different cultures have to America so that they too can one day say those very famous words “Thank God Almighty, We Are Free at Last…”

Detergent, anyone? – In a recent post, I described the millennial generation as remarkably brilliant. I stand by that observation. However, I do need to question the generation behind them, the so-called “Generation Z.” This week, YouTube announced it was pulling down all the videos that people had posted showing Gen Z teenagers participating in the Tide Pod challenge, a totally idiotic contest whereby they would put a Tide detergent pod in their mouths and see how long they could keep it in there until they couldn’t handle the burning sensation or would throw it up. The problem was so widespread that Tide had to enlist sports figures and celebrities to speak publicly and implore upon these teens to not eat Tide Pods. Duh?

AROUND TOWN

Leadership Lunch – I kicked off the week at lunch with two of Long Island’s most talented business leaders – Karen Frank of the Omnicon Group and Terri Alessi-Miceli of HIA-LI. I got to know Karen when she was a panelist on the “Get in the Head of a CEO” panel I moderated last fall featuring winners of HIA-LI’s Business Achievement Awards, and over lunch I enjoyed learning firsthand about all the exciting developments at Omnicon since its recent acquisition by Spectris plc. I was happy to hear of Omnicon’s expanded involvement in the HIA-LI under Karen’s leadership, and I left our lunch energized from having met another Long Island business leader that I can learn from.

The Taxman – I had breakfast this week at the Paradise Diner with my advisor and friend Alan Sasserath of Sasserath & Zoraian, LLP. We discussed tax planning under the new tax code and further developing an international business practice here on Long Island.

HIA-LI Chairmanship – On Wednesday I met up for lunch at Sempre Vivolo with my good friend Bob Quarté, Managing Partner of AVZ, the most recent past Chairperson of the HIA-LI Board of Directors. He gave me some insight on my new role and we also shared our thoughts about the challenges and opportunities for our business clients in 2018.

Friday Night Lights – Looking forward to dinner tonight with my friends Bob Pospischil and Amanda Sexton at Kitchen A Bistro in St. James, where the menu changes daily. I’m excited for great conversation over a delicious meal.

City Weekend – I’m also looking forward to spending the weekend in the city with dear friends. We’re staying at the Baccarat Hotel and will be having dinner at The Pool seafood restaurant (a first for me for both – I’ll report back!). I hear we’re expected to break 50 degrees this weekend – hope everyone enjoys.

I will be taking a break next week – spending a rough few days sampling wine in Napa Valley! I’ll be back to blogging on February 2.

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