The few blocks of 55th street where our townhouse is located is a grassy public walkway rather than paved road, which leads to the section of the Harbor Park known as The Point.
It is here on the grassy street, what we refer to as our front yard, that we’ll take our blankets and chairs and set up the vintage beanbag game as picnic headquarters, where family and friends can come and go throughout the day to take a break from the festivities happening at the park across the road. It is from this vantage that we’ll sit under the stars to watch the celebration of our country’s independence by way of fireworks tonight.
The grassy walkway leads directly down to the center of the point, passing between the Civil War Museum on the left and Public Museum on the right, to a fountain monument of Christopher Columbus standing atop a globe, looking very much the proud conqueror.
One freezing day a few months ago, I set off to walk the dog down our regular route on 55th to her favorite place to go, just past the museum parking lots on either side of the sidewalk in the grass. As I glanced ahead I caught sight of that monument and was startled to see it crumpled forward, as if a crowbar had capped it at its knees- a few people were standing around looking at it.
My initial reaction was swift- no matter what my opinion of erecting a statue to honor the “discovery of America” in that overly glorified way we were taught in grade school, I could not feel anything but disgust at the thought of vandalism. But closing the distance from our block to the point, I was relieved to find that no such act had taken place. It must have been some sort of strange mirage. Not a single person was at the point that day, having been too cold to visit the lake.
Curious now, and a little shaken, I walked the dog all the way to the statue to have a look. I’d never bothered to stop and read the plaque paying tribute there before, and I was pleasantly surprised to read these words:
“The spirit of the Immigrant Statue of Christopher Columbus is dedicated to immigrants from countries around the world who have traveled under difficult circumstances to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and America with the hope of building a better life for themselves and their families. Columbus was chosen to depict this select group of people because of the vision and courage that he displayed in 1492. He proved his theory that by sailing west, he could circumnavigate the world, thus he prevailed over the conventional wisdom that this feat could not be accomplished. Many of the immigrants of times past and today have demonstrated courageousness by leaving their homelands under difficult circumstances…”
My breath caught in my throat as I connected the words to the destruction in my vision and I knew what it was telling me; The spirit of immigration has been broken. The shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the poor, tired, and huddled masses, has become a subject of division.
As the events of the past few months unfolded, I hear those words on repeat inside my head. “The spirit of immigration has been broken...the spirit of immigration has been broken…”
Last week I heard an interview on NPR- something about agriculture, that I only half listened to, but one factoid caught my attention; that America’s agricultural system was in danger for the lack of diversifying crops and the selective breeding of certain varieties over the years. The commenter used apples as his example, astonishingly in the 1800s, there were thousands and thousands of varieties grown in the US. Now, something like a mere 200 remain. He went on to explain about how this selective growing of a targeted few varieties resulted in the extinction of thousands, without which all are in jeopardy of failing. I’m not much studied on the nuances of biodiversity, but it made me think of how purebred dogs are in such high demand, yet often these pure breeds have a higher incidence of health issues and disease.
Biodiversity, as explained by the google dictionary, is the variety of life in the world, the very thing we rely on to eat, breathe, and drink. Without such diversity of animals and crops, humanity can not survive. How then, can we ignore the selective exaltation of certain groups of people in this country and not understand the precarious position this leaves us in as a whole?
If variety is the spice of life, the lack of it must be pretty bland and extremely dangerous. As an artist, I shudder to think of a world where everyone looks just like me.
Yesterday I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said “This land is my land” in very large bold letters. She was accompanied by a man who had the look of someone that used to be referred to as a skinhead. These days the popular term is white nationalist. As someone who is very familiar with creating worst case scenarios in my head, I know the fear that can drive this kind of thinking.
There is a disease eating at the root, the very heart of America. It has to do with the fear of losing our identity. As we close ranks and shore up out of self-preservation, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more exclusive we become, the more we lose the true sense of who we really are. God created us in his image, male and female- his image isn’t one man over another, his encompasses us all as a whole.
Today we come out en masse to celebrate, not as opposing teams of red or blue. Today we are all on team red, white, and blue. As the song goes, yes this land is my land, but this land is also your land. It belongs to you and me.
Happy Independence Day to one and all.