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Danielle Ofri: Americans by Choice

July 29, 2010

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By **Danielle Ofri**

The first thing I always do on July 4th is unfold my New York Times to where the Declaration of Independence is printed on the back page, as it is every year. I’m a fairly jaded New Yorker, but seeing the original writing every year always makes my heart skip a beat. And now that I have three young children, I’m even more thrilled to show off this documentary evidence of what it means to be American. Plus, I get to impress them with how I still remember the first paragraph by heart from my junior high school days.

Listening to the tenor of the anti-immigrant tirades makes me shudder. To be descended from an immigrant and then to slam the door on the next wave is hypocritical and, let’s face it, profoundly un-American.

This year, when I flipped through the newspaper, something else caught my eye. A full-page ad from the Carnegie Corporation declared, “Immigrants, the Pride of America.” Centered among forty-six photos of immigrants with impressive resumes was a picture of the venerable American capitalist with the following text below:

“Andrew Carnegie, who founded Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911, was an immigrant from Scotland. We at Carnegie Corporation salute his legacy, along with the contributions of the millions of other immigrants who have made, and continue to make, our nation strong and vibrant. We are committed to helping immigrants become integrated into the civic fabric of our nation because enlightened citizenship is the everlasting strength of our democracy. Our national motto, E pluribus unum—‘out of many, one’—continues to be an ideal we can all aspire to and a true guiding light for our nation.”

I’m not normally swayed by such unabashed patriotism, but after the steady stream of vitriol in the immigration debate, this was a welcome relief.

Somehow, it seems to have been forgotten that every American is or was an immigrant. Most of our grandparents and great-grandparents came here “illegally” because immigrants were never particularly welcomed. But those generations of “Americans by Choice” built up our society and economy in a manner that has come to define America.

Our current crop of illegal immigrants also keeps our economy running, and just about every one of them would come here legally if it were possible. Listening to the tenor of the anti-immigrant tirades makes me shudder. To be descended from an immigrant and then to slam the door on the next wave is hypocritical and, let’s face it, profoundly un-American.

Thank you Andrew Carnegie and your descendants for reminding us about “the pride of America.”

Copyright 2010 Beacon Broadside

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This post originally appeared at ONTHECOMMONS.ORG.

Danielle Ofri is a writer and practicing internist at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. She is the editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review. Her newest book is Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients.

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