Suzanne Fields

Americans have thrived in the melting pot. We haven't been a purebred strain since Captain John Smith married Pocahontas. Intermarriage and immigration make us a lumpy and colorful stew.

We frequently ask each other about our origins. In the bad old days of segregation, origins abetted racism. Identification with the "old country" was a tool for discrimination, too. Today, curiosity about roots is rarely sought to elicit prejudice, but used (and now validated by the Supreme Court) to confer victimhood. That's too bad. Most Americans are a tolerant lot. We take pride in our mixed heritage.

We celebrate all of us on the Fourth of July. While our original independence meant the English here separated from the English over there, a lot of the ocean blue has passed under lots of ships since then.

My bloodlines, like most of the people I know, are decidedly mixed. My father was born in Russia, my mother in Canada. Four grandparents came from Russia, Poland and Lithuania. My three children were born in Washington. Our two grandsons have a Chilean father who was raised a Catholic by a mother whose roots go back to Spain before the Jews were evicted in 1492. His father was French and English.

The boys can probably appeal to "diversity" on the basis of their "Hispanic" father when they are old enough to apply to college. That's an irony Sandra Day O'Connor could appreciate.

My grandparents, who rarely talked about the "old country," because the memories were too painful, had suffered through pogroms and ghettos, anti-Semitic laws and state-supported prejudice. They were poor and unlettered but they never felt like victims here. My father said, "Pop wasn't the smartest man in the world, but he was smart enough not to miss the boat to America."

When I was growing up, I went to segregated schools, ate in segregated restaurants and watched movies in segregated theaters. After a summer at camp, where I spent all day in the sun, my skin turned a dark tan and my friends joked that I wouldn't be admitted to the Sheridan movie theater on Georgia Avenue.

I met the first black person who wasn't a handyman or a maid when I went off to the University of Wisconsin. My grandsons attend a charter school where the children of different colors never notice the color of skin. (But they do notice that the boys have red hair.)

My story is neither typical nor unusual, but American to the core. As we celebrate the 227th anniversary of our independence, it testifies to what's wonderful about America - our ability to rectify what was awful (slavery and segregation), absorbing immigrants who endured prejudice in other lands, while working to make America better.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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