WHY I CHOSE AMERICA TO BE MY SECOND HOME:
A July 4th Sermon
(Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara at St. James’ Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, New York on April 7, 2013 in celebration of July 4th Weekend.)
Please remain standing as we declare our positive affirmation:
I am a child of God; I believe in His Word. I breathe the Holy Spirit. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I push out negative thoughts, I take in positive thoughts. I push out sickness, I take in good health. I push out poverty, I take in prosperity. I push out hatred, I take in love. I push out despair, I take in hope; I push out sadness I take in joy. And now, I will share the Good News to my friends, to my family, to my neighbors here and all over the world in Jesus Name. Amen.” (Please be seated).
Let me start with something funny. An immigrant named Jose finally became a U.S. Citizen. After the swearing-in ceremony, he called long-distance to his home country. “Mom, Dad, I really like America; and they really liked me too. As a matter of fact, when I took my oath as a new citizen, they sang to me a special song.” O really?” His parents ask, what song did they sing?” Jose intoned, “Oh JO-SE can you see…”
Okay, if you don’t laugh at this joke, you may be an ugly American, so here’s another one. To those of you who are not natural-born US citizens, you are familiar with the fact that before you can be a naturalized U.S. citizen, you have to pass a Citizenship Examination which consists of a few questions on American history, culture and politics. So this was the story of an elderly immigrant from my home country, the Philippines, who was interviewed for U.S. Citizenship. He comes from the province of Ilocos, where my paternal grandfather came from, and so they speak Ilocano, than Tagalog. We’ll call his name, “Manong,” because he is an elderly man. In fact, we call an elderly person “Manong” as a sign of respect.
Well, seeing that he was around 70 years old, the INS interviewer in California decided to give him two easy questions, so he asked Manong. “Who is the president of the United States?” Manong answered in Ilocano saying “Narigat,” which actually means, “It’s difficult” but at that in the early 1980’s Reagan was the president, so the interviewer said, “That sounds correct, but next time, pronounce it better.” Then the interviewer asked another question, “And who is the governor of California?” Manong again responded in Ilocano saying, “Diak amum,” which actually means, “I don’t know.” But at that time, the governor of California was Deukmejian, so the interviewer remarked, “that's right, but next time, please pronounce it better.” (Manong became a U.S. citizen for speaking Ilocano!) Now, if you did not laugh with that joke, you are really an ugly American.
This morning, let me preach on something that relates to July 4tth celebration. We all know that we celebrate July 4th as the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. A developing country in Asia, the Philippines, celebrates its independence from almost 400 years of Spanish colonization, which ended on June 12, 1898. It is wonderful to know that a developed country, like the United States of America, celebrates its own independence from English colonization, even though in lesser years. (The 13 original colonies were founded by the British government and populated by British citizens from 1607-1733. The "Americans" or "Patriots" in 1776 ended British rule over these former colonies)
So let me share some reasons why I chose America to be my second home:
- First reason, America is a welcoming nation. We are a nation of immigrants. Of course, we owe this beginning from the hospitality of the indigenous Native Americans who welcomed the Puritans from England and Europe. While there are some issues regarding the relationships between the cowboys and the Indians, the fact of history is that this superpower nation has now become not only a melting pot of Anglo European races, but a “salad bowl” of races, colors and cultures—Indigenous Americans, Africans, Latinos, Asians. People from all races, cultures, nations have immigrated to this county for various reasons: economic, political, religious, education and what have you. I have been to Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Rome, Geneva, Nairobi and various cities in Asia, Africa and Europe but there is nothing compared to New York City in the U.S.A. In many of these cities, there is an equivalent of “Times Square” but in “European Times Squares, “the dominant color is white; in “African Times Square,” the dominant color is Black; in “Asian Times Squares,” the dominant color is brown or yellow---but in Times Square in New York City, there is no dominant color. There is rather the color of the rainbow---black, white, and brown, red, yellow---and what have you.
This country of immigrants is being copied in various parts of the world. Almost every well-meaning population planner now understands that immigrants fuel the economy rather than drain the economy. They supply the new energy, the new talents, and the new energy. They revitalize the economy and they are motivated by new dreams and visions---and they are willing to work hard to achieve it.
The concrete evidence of America as a welcoming nation is its theory and practice of citizenship: you can be an American no matter where you come from. Of course, becoming a U.S. president is still reserved for natural-born American citizens that are why detractors of President Obama often harp on where he was born. But in many spheres of life (e.g. Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California), you can be from Russia, China, India or Timbuktu and you can still become an American citizen.
I think there is an irony there when a naturalized American citizen would become hostile and antagonistic to other immigrants. A parody of this ungrateful immigrant was made by Yacoff Smirnoff, who after becoming a U.S. citizen was asked, “what do you like about this country?’ and he said, “It’s the American people” and “what don’t you like about America?” and he said, “Those damn immigrants!” I think the Bible has something to say about this: Even before Israel became a nation, a great nation, God spoke to the Hebrews in Exodus 22:21 “You must not mistreat or oppress immigrants in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once immigrants and even strangers in the land of Egypt.”
- The second thing I love about America is that it is a generous nation. No nation on earth can match the innate generosity of the American people. Recently we had visitors from China who came to New York and visited the Episcopal Church Center. They come from the China Christian Council and wanted to learn about the American philanthropy. In one interview I made, one delegate said that generally, Chinese philanthropy stops at families. He believes, as a Chinese Christian, that for China (and any nation for that matter) to flourish, “the people’s generosity must be unbounded.”It may start with family but it must move on to the nation and to the world. It is wonderful to know that Christians in China are moving from the “three-self” (self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating) to the “three-well” (well-governing, well-supporting and well-propagating).
This generosity of American philanthropy is gained by the United States because of its strong Christian heritage. Most Americans believe in the “American Jeremiad” that we are a “city set on the hill,” that the DC in Washington, D.C. means “David’s City” than British Columbia. We are governed or influenced by the principles, values and practice of Christian stewardship that ultimately we own nothing in this world, and that our “time, talent and treasure” are God’s gifts and divine trusts. A person must learn to give of himself to others in order to have true and abundant life (John 10:10). The story of Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee in Palestine often illustrates that the attitude of “receiving without giving” leads to death (Dead Sea) but the lifestyle of “receiving and giving” leads to even more abundant life (Sea of Galilee). Like the circulation of the blood or the flow of the river currents, this lifestyle of receiving and giving makes for health, energy and life.
- Finally, the third thing I love about America is that it is a freedom-loving nation. Freedom is enshrined in the Constitution as a human right. Perhaps, we Episcopalians, can share in the historical legacy, that almost 2/3rd of the framers of the U.S. Constitution, including Thoma Jefferson, were said to be Episcopalians. They penned these eternal words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Equality, liberty, freedom. These are the basic nature of God’s creation. Even the birds cry when they are caged, so as crowns of creation, human beings must be free!
The American pledge of allegiance also says, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Americans will defend freedom at all cost because freedom is what makes us truly human---and should make us more humane.
A Filipino-American farm worker, Carlos Bulosan, wrote a fictional-autobiography, entitled America is in the Heart. Set against the background of the Great Depression and the sweltering heat of racism in the 1930’s, while working the fields of Delano, Watsonville, Stockton and Salinas (among other farmlands in California), Bulosan found time to write under the shade of a tree, this vision of America:
"America is not a land of one race, or class or institution
It is in the hearts of those who sought and died for freedom
It is in the eyes of those who seek to build a new world
America is a prophecy of a New Society."
A welcoming nation, a generous nation and freedom-loving nation---these are what makes me chose America to be my second home.