The Super Bowl ads in and about Michigan this year really created an ache in my heart – creating images of an America that I believe we can be and also an America that we shouldn’t be. The Chrysler “Imported from Detroit” ad that was inspiring and the MI Republican senate candidate ad that used stereotypes had me seesawing between these two images, and I wondered how we can move toward the ideal ensconced in Clint Eastwood’s call to America.
America is a symbol of promise, the freedom to do something or to be free of something: freedom to worship, to create, or freedom from oppression, from want, from fear. The PBS show, Destination America came out several years ago, to chronicle the immigrant experience. It was made about a decade ago, around the time that there were 11.5% foreign-born people in the US, close to the 15% high of 1910. More recently, PBS interviewed 12 famous Americans to answer two basic questions – What made America? What makes us? – in Faces of America, another study of the immigrant experience. Both programs echo how much this country is shaped by the energy and diversity that immigrants bring to it. As Clint Eastwood said, “We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.” The collective immigrant work ethic has helped create that attitude and is what makes America unique.
But as these shows illustrate, previous waves of immigrants have also faced difficulties, especially during tough economic times, and our generation is no different. When the Hoekstra ad came out, I heard from friends across the Asian American community. The image of an Asian woman speaking broken English, who rides a bike through rice paddies as Asian-sounding music plays in the background smacks of a negative stereotype – one that many of us have railed against for decades. An anti-Chinese sentiment was also heard in the chambers of the Troy City Council, and it too caused stir in the community.
It seems that some people still have trouble accepting people welcomed to our shores or those they share the planet with – as evidenced not only by these two incidents, but the recent desecration of a Sikh house of worship in Sterling Heights, MI. The vandalism was reminiscent of the first hate crime after 9/11, where a Sikh (confused for a Muslim) was murdered. The gurudwara, still under construction, was vandalized around the same time as the Super Bowl, with graffiti using offensive language, racial epithets, anti-Muslim statements and references to 9/11.
Friends reached out to me about Hoekstra ad and the Troy Council comments – from APIA Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that serves the Asian Pacific Islander American community through civic participation, advocacy, and education; from Michigan Campaign for Justice, a non-profit organization founded in 1983 as a civil rights advocacy organization to fight for justice in the aftermath of the baseball bat beating death of Vincent Chin. As soon as I learned of the desecration of the house of worship, I reached out to friends – to members of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, which was formed due to a 2005 incident of exclusion in Troy; to members of the Hindu community, represented by the Outreach Committee of the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit; to members of WISDOM, a women’s interfaith organization that seeks to build peace in our region and our world through creating friendships; and to my friends in the Sikh community.
And we are living out the promise of America… We came together for a press conference at the gurudwara in Sterling Heights, defending religious freedom and protesting bigotry. We came together to launch the 2012 Respect America, Respect Michigan Candidate Pledge, asking all congressional (and other political) candidates in Michigan to take the pledge to respect Michigan’s diverse communities. We continue to do what Clint Eastwood said Americans do…”We all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.”