For Purple Mountain Majesties

Perhaps I'm a sucker for a good story. I bring this up because I'm inspired to reflect upon events that took place Nov. 22. Like all of you, it's not uncommon for me to be at the office late. On that particular evening, my fellow staff members jokingly gave me grief as I left early for a parent-teacher conference.

12/01/2003


Perhaps I'm a sucker for a good story. I bring this up because I'm inspired to reflect upon events that took place Nov. 22. Like all of you, it's not uncommon for me to be at the office late. On that particular evening, my fellow staff members jokingly gave me grief as I left early for a parent-teacher conference. The meeting was not critical, but lately I've been experiencing a substantial amount of parental guilt. So despite a pile of work (more guilt), I left and was glad. Besides spending time with my son's first-grade teacher, I perused a display of posters the kids made describing their family histories, including traditions past and present. I was struck by two things: 1) Almost every family was a blend of ethnicities; and 2) almost everyone made it clear they were Americans and proud of it.

Later that evening I stumbled upon a TV program recollecting the assassination of President Kennedy 40 years ago that day. The anniversary had slipped my mind completely, partly because I was not of the generation that directly felt that day's sorrow. Nonetheless, I found the program moving, and again, was struck by something—intolerance—in this case for then-president Kennedy and his policies, which included the advancement of civil rights.

As I'm scribing this, it's quiet in the office, as it's the day before Thanksgiving. It's an appropriate time for introspection, and I'm grateful for many things, one of which is my country and another is my heritage. In the confluence of my thoughts, the film Gangs of New York surfaces, as it also touches on heritage and intolerance. Briefly, the movie portrayed gang conflict in New York in the mid-1800s, most notably a struggle between Irish immigrants and self-described "natavists." The latter group very violently expressed its belief that the integration of the Irish into American society would ruin the nation. History has proved otherwise, and, indeed, one can't deny the Irish influence on cities like New York, Boston and Chicago.

Despite this fact—and the pain the nation endured in 1963—intolerance still looms even in the engineering community. In an item we ran in our e-newsletter recently, the National Science Foundation released a census-based study noting that the number of foreign-born scientists and engineers was significantly higher than previously believed. While not discounting the invaluable role these men and women play, the study called for urgent action on the part of the goverment to encourage more American-born students to enter these fields. I agree. We need more American engineers and scientists. But what's American? In my son's school I see nothing but ethnic families, yet every one is American. Why shouldn't we believe the descendants of these "foreign" engineers will be as "American" as say, the Irish, Italians or Poles who came before? For that matter, is it one's place of birth that matters or is it one's adherance to a set of freedom-based principles that makes them a real American? From the young, intelligent faces I saw looking back at me from those posters, or from the foreign-born men and women who regularly contribute to the pages of this magazine, I think I know.





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