Happy 240th Birthday
There have been a string of Rundgeburtstage (round birthdays) as they say here, where the second digit is a 0. A bicentennial baby, I’m preparing to celebrate one myself in a few months. The circus part of “bread and circuses,” the European soccer tournament, has been overshadowing life here for the past few weeks, feeding off of the abundance of nationalist feeling surging across the continent and its surrounding islands. When forced to squeeze myself into this simplified framework, I default to supporting Italy, who was unfortunately eliminated from the competition by Germany on Saturday. But soccer is not real life, and the country whose citizenship I have by jus soli (citizenship granted based on being born in a country) and – just in case that wasn’t enough – jus sanguinis (citizenship granted based on your parents’ citizenship regardless of where you are born) is celebrating a round birthday this year too. The United States of America is generous in granting citizenship; it is possible based on either jus soli or jus sanguinis principles. In contrast, no European country currently grants citizenship by jus soli. We are a nation mostly made up of immigrants, our multiple identities and different backgrounds strands of myriad colors that when woven together form a thick, rich tapestry. Our diversity is not just a reality: it has the potential to be our greatest strength. If we decide to let it be.
The Fourth of July, Independence Day: the day each year that my parents packed up a blanket and lawn chairs and me into the green Plymouth Volaré station wagon, drove the short distance to the lake, and set up camp near the Veterans Memorial Fountain to watch the fireworks over Lake Michigan. (This unseasonal picture is the only one I could find in my files and does not reflect the reality of any July in Wisconsin I have ever experienced.) Though it is an inward looking holiday about celebrating pride in being a citizen of a specific country, as I frolicked about the fountain, my thoughts reached outward into the future. I dreamed of being old enough to travel and explore the world represented by the fountain, wishing I could go to every country and learn every language. In Water and What We Know, Karen Babine describes her own personal songline, in allusion to the Australian Aboriginal songlines, encouraging me to reflect on where my songline goes, what locations along the path I travel are loaded with meaning. My songline goes by the fountain, where a seed named wanderlust was planted and took firm root. Perhaps it is significant that the fountain was dedicated less than two weeks after I was born. We are the same age.
I have a birthday wish for my country as it navigates its way through the turmoil of 2016. Speak softer as you carry that big stick, knowing that exercising restraint can be a compassionate and effective use of power. As you sift and winnow through the daily flood of information, keep a clear head so you can separate fact from fiction, truth from lies. Remember that part of your mission is to insure domestic tranquility and that a gun is not the right tool to get this particular job done. Preserve jus soli, which literally means “right of the soil,” and protect the ground beneath our feet and all our natural resources from pollution and exploitation.
May you live up to your ideals!