The First Word:
The Greatest Country

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
August / September 2004

“Most of us take it for granted how great our country is. We have the freedom of speech, and the Presidents of our country have never taken control of our personal lives.”

 – Claire Cassidy, 10, student at St. Philip’s in San Francisco

At a time when America is coming under criticism from many quarters, let us not forget how truly unique this country is. If there is any doubt about that ask an immigrant.

One of the many I’ve spoken to in the last two weeks is Nelli Tan from Burma. Nelli has worked in housekeeping at St. Mary’s Hospital for the last 30 years since she immigrated to San Francisco in 1974. She never gets a weekend off but she is very happy to be here. “You work hard, but you have freedom and you’re not scared every time you do something they are going to put you in jail,” she says.

Like many places in the world, Northern Ireland included, Burma has “many troubles” and has been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1966. Mrs. Tan is appreciative of the chance for a better life that America offers “especially for the children,” she says. “Here my son, 27, and my daughter, 24, have a good education.”

I’ve been seeing a lot of Mrs. Tan because a close relative of mine, an immigrant, is currently in St. Mary’s recovering from a stroke. Were she still in Ireland, where she might have had to travel up to a hundred miles for emergency treatment, she would probably be dead. Here in St. Mary’s, she’s receiving excellent treatment.

Among her caregivers and health professionals are immigrants from China, Nicaragua, Russia, Mexico, and the Philippines, and all of those I’ve spoken to regard being allowed to live and work in America as a precious gift. And like Native Americans who believe that a gift should be passed on, these immigrants are providing valuable service in return for the freedom they enjoy.

Ronan Tynan, who sang at President Reagan’s funeral, is another immigrant who is unabashed in his love for America (see page 91). Tynan says, “There is nothing like this country. There’s nothing like the people. They rejoice in people’s achievements. They encourage you to go way beyond what you could ever dream of doing. And they are fantastically appreciative of anything you do for them. The country is a gift.”

President Reagan, whom I often disagreed with, but I loved for his optimism and belief in America (see the story on his Irish roots, page 12), in a 1994 speech to a group of young students reminded them that anyone from any corner of the world can come to the United States and become an American.

President Reagan said, “Some may call it mysticism if they will, but I cannot help but feel that there was some divine plan that placed this continent here between the two great oceans to be found by people from any corner of the earth — people who had an extra ounce of desire for freedom and some extra courage to rise up and leave their families, their relatives, their friends, their nations and come here to eventually make this country.

“If we take this crowd and if we could go through and ask about the heritage, the background of every family represented here, we would probably come up with the names of every country on earth, every corner of the world, and every race,” Reagan said. “Here is the one spot on earth where we have the brotherhood of man. And maybe as we continue with this proudly, this brotherhood of man made up from people representative of every corner of the earth, maybe one day boundaries all over the earth will disappear as people cross boundaries and find out that, yes, there is a brotherhood of man in every corner.”

It’s sad to say that President Reagan’s “brotherhood of man” and the very ideals that this country is built on is becoming a thing of the past, as America closes its doors and you read about deportations on a daily basis. What will America be like when young Claire Cassidy grows up?

“We are lucky that the war is being fought in Iraq and not in our country. Even though personally I don’t think the war should have started,” Cassidy says.

Asked what she would have done, she explains, “I would have talked it out because I don’t think it’s fair that we the people didn’t have a say in whether we should go to war or not, and it’s not fair to risk a war on our country. We should have voted on it because it’s our future. We are kids and we are going to be the grown ups one day and it should not be so much what the adults want but what the kids want because we are going to be the future one day. When I’m older I might be happier because I will have a say in some of our country’s decisions.” ♦

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