I am a first generation immigrant. I was born in Indonesia and immigrated to Holland when I was two. It was in Holland where I had first contact with Americans. We would go to one of the military bases on fourth of July for the festivities. The Americans were cool. They drove big cool cars. They had a swagger. They were friendly. They were welcoming. They had big fireworks. They were just cool.
In 1960 at the age of 9 my family immigrated to the US. I loved everything about the US. Everyone had a lot of stuff. And the people who welcomed us here gave us stuff. It was overwhelming. Potlucks at the Lake Grove Presbyterian church were fabulous. Jello salads with every imaginable and unimaginable addition. Casseroles of all sorts. And hide and seek after. My first trip to the local Piggely Wiggely was over the top. So much stuff. I had a quarter to spend and I recognized Chicklets. They were 25 cents back in Holland. I gave the cashier my quarter and happily headed for the exit. But she beckoned me to come back. It was a bit scary since I didn’t speak English. She put some coins in my hand. It turns out the Chicklets were only a nickel. I was dumb founded. Clearly I had the good fortune of landing in the land of milk and honey.
I had lots of friends and a great life. There were some things that happened that in our modern PC world would be considered offensive. In junior high some of my friends named me Chocolate. Sometimes they even called me dirty Puerto Rican. I really didn’t care. They were my friends. I loved them and they loved me. I don’t think they even knew what a Puerto Rican was. I certainly didn’t.
Recently my sweetheart Margaret and I went to New York. We wandered all over Manhattan. We got around by subway. Every time we asked for help New Yorkers, including cops would go out of their way to be helpful. A woman who led us to our transfer subway line remarked that we were so nice and friendly. I thought she was nice and friendly. I’m told that New Yorkers can be rude. I didn’t see this.
Americans are still cool. Since the presidential election, some people on both sides of the divide are behaving like idiots. Americans being cool has nothing to do with politicians. Politicians in the final analysis have to bend to the will of the people. They often don’t want to but they always have to. They don’t lead, people lead. They follow. They’re irrelevant. I think we get what we expect. I expect people to be loving and kind. I expect people to be helpful. I expect Americans to do the right thing. And usually this is my experience. This doesn’t mean that America is the greatest country. I think most people think where ever they live is pretty great. What makes America great is the people. And I still believe Americans are cool.