A Beautiful Place

July 4, 2005 | 22 comments
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This week I spent a few days in Nauvoo, the last place the Latter-day Saints tried to build a temple before being forced to leave the United States. The conflict didn’t end there. It took a long time for Americans and Saints to make our peace with each other, and Mormons are still a peculiar people. We have loyalties to a community extending across the world, and into another world, that ultimately run even deeper than the commitments of national citizenship.

But in Nauvoo I also met a couple I knew on my mission in Japan, who have come to the U.S. to live for a time, yea, and perhaps until the day they die. They came because they and their children will be free to live as they think best, perhaps more than anywhere else on the planet. They have come despite the strangeness of the language, have worked hard, and found a place for themselves here, with neighbors who share much of their culture, even a bilingual school where they can send their kids. This is a land of promise, and not only because of the land. It is a society fundamentally based on finding ways to cooperate and be a blessing to each other despite deep differences, sometimes even because of deep differences. What a beautiful place!

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife.
Who more than self the country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

–Katherine Lee Bates

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22 Responses to A Beautiful Place

  1. Cracker on July 4, 2005 at 11:40 pm

    Gag me with a spoon.

  2. Ben H on July 4, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    So, which part do you disagree with, Cracker? I’ve seen a lot of places, and this place is beautiful!

  3. Wilfried on July 5, 2005 at 12:14 am

    A beautiful and fitting tribute on this day, Ben. I can identify with your thoughts, as one who has also come from afar to work and live in the U.S. At the same time, how fitting that you also look beyond: “We have loyalties to a community extending across the world, and into another world, that ultimately run even deeper than the commitments of national citizenship. “

  4. Ben H on July 5, 2005 at 12:49 am

    Thanks, Wilfried. Visiting Nauvoo right before Independence Day is kind of a dizzying experience. It is such a beautiful place, and yet for that all the more wrenching . . . but in the long run, I find myself settling on the beauty. Nauvoo (which of course means “beautiful”) is a reminder that Mormons must always have mixed feelings about the U.S. The temple there is a rock of offense. Rebuilding it draws even more people there, to learn about its destruction. And yet the fact is, it has been rebuilt, with a modern interior and all, and Mormons and non-Mormons come to see it, and it builds friendship and understanding. I could say a lot more. I came across Joseph’s grave essentially by accident . . . maybe later.

  5. Jack on July 5, 2005 at 1:52 am

    Thanks, Ben, for the post.

    One need not be a Mormon to have mixed feelings about this country. Any responsible citizen will wish for some things to be different. But on this day, just one day out of the year, I’m not going to hinder the feeling of love as it rises above all the other feelings. I’m going to celebrate what’s good about her. And tomorrow, if I can get possession of myself, I’ll turn my thoughts again to mending her flaws.

  6. A. Greenwood on July 5, 2005 at 9:15 am

    God bless America. Her flaws are more easily mended to the more alive we are to her virtues.

  7. Tony on July 5, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Beautiful sentiments, indeed, Ben, but my question is how can that Japanese family just up and move and settle in the US? An American couldn’t as easily do the same in their country I’d be willing to bet. Also, what type of work do they do? Are they doing work that an American could do, are they taking work away from a qualified American?

    I realize that these issues aren’t the point of your post, but while were discussing our nation’s flaws immigration (legal or illegal) is one flaw I’d like to see addressed.

  8. Mark B. on July 5, 2005 at 11:23 am

    I agree completely Tony. If we could only find the flaw in the immigration laws that permitted your ancestors to immigrate to the United States and fix that retroactively, then we’d be in business.

    Your question “Are they doing work that an American could do, are they taking work away from a qualified American?[sic]” is odious. One thing that makes America great is that there is no ethnic test for determining one’s American-ness. So, whether one is Asian or African or Latino or German or whatever, he or she can become an American. So this Japanese family can become Americans. Does it matter that an American would have a much more difficult time emigrating to Japan or becoming a citizen of Japan? I don’t think that international law requires reciprocity in immigration laws.

    Finally, you can probably rest easy about this family. There are very few Japanese nationals in the United States illegally. They don’t fly to Canada or Mexico and sneak across the border. They don’t generally come as tourists and remain long past their authorized stay. They simply follow the rules (the Japanese are generally pretty good about doing that) and come in at the gate, with the approbation of the immigration officials.

  9. A. Greenwood on July 5, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Like Jack, I do not think the 4th of July is an opportunity to rail at America’s perceived wrongs. Like Mark B., I do not think that meeting an immigrant family that’s come here because of the good the country has to offer is an occasion to attack immigration.

  10. Tony on July 5, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Mark, how do you know that I’m not a native american? Now, if we could retroactively boot your family out of the country, then we’d be in good shape!

    Why are you so quick to play the race card? Never in my post did I mention anything about Japanese taking jobs from Americans. My disgust is with a system that allows corporations to bring foreign nationals, period, over to do work at a fraction of the salary qualified Americans can do.

    What do you do for a living? Are you at risk of foreign nationals taking your job? Perhaps you aren’t, but that is a real worry in my industry.

    And finally, yes, it does matter that an American would have a much more difficult time emigrating to Japan or becoming a citizen of Japan. Why? Other nations actively protect their economies from masses of foreign nationals looking for work. Why shouldn’t the USA do the same and make it just as difficult for foreigners to live and work here?

  11. Larry on July 5, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Ben,

    This past week I discovered a letter supposedly written by my 8th great-grandmother around 1632 in which she descibes the great blessings of being with the pilgrims, in spite of their trials and difficulties.
    It is worth noting that Katherine Lee Bates was a descendant of hers. Obviously the blessing of living in that great land was not lost through the generations.
    My 6th great-grandfather was one of the sons of freedom involved with Samuel Adams in the Boston Tea Party.
    My great-great grandfather was one of the 4 brethern who offered the prayers in the Nauvoo Temple as the Saints were being driven out.
    What is interesting to me, is that for some unknown reason, I have always had a great affinity for the United States and the principles on which it was founded. It is only recently that I have learned of my roots that are so deeply engrained there.
    I share my heritage and thoughts, not to boast or brag, but to express my deep gratitude to a great people, among whom I now have a claim that goes back to it’s beginnings.

  12. Jack on July 5, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you, Larry, our friend from the north.

  13. Mark B. on July 5, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    Neither corporations nor individuals are permitted under the law to bring in foreign nationals to do work at a fraction of the salary that “qualified Americans” earn.

    Professionals (persons with at least a bachelor’s degree) can obtain a non-immigrant visa only after certification by the Department of Labor that the wage they will be paid is at least equal to the prevailing wage paid in that area to U.S. workers. Non-professionals simply cannot get non-immigrant visas (except in numbers so small as to have no real effect on the labor market).

    Employers seeking to sponsor immigrants for permanent residence must show both that the wage proposed to be paid to the alien is at least equal to the prevailing wage AND that efforts to recruit US workers for the position have been unsuccessful.

    Since that’s what the law says, I don’t know what “system” you’re talking about that allows “corporations” (can we get a big hiss from the audience, please?) to bring foreigners to take our jobs away.

    Mercantilism didn’t work in the 18th century, and the severely restricted immigration policies of Japan haven’t worked in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. If you think that Japan’s protection of it’s economy has worked in the past 15 years, you should get out more often.

    Finally, nobody played a race card. The odiousness of the ideas in your original post is the same whether the immigrants are from Japan, Africa, Europe or Mars.

  14. A. Greenwood on July 5, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    Note: there are intelligent, non-odious defenders of limiting immigration. They will not be making an appearance in this thread, however, because this is not the place for it.

  15. Naomi Frandsen on July 5, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    I’m glad you wrote a Fourth of July post, Ben. I was wondering if I’d find one to read on the bloggernacle. I’m not going to weigh in on the foreign nationals/flaws of America debate–currently I teach English composition to a group of great students from Nicaragua, Japan, El Salvador, Uganda, Bahrain, and Texas, so I don’t think my personal profession is at risk. But I know this is a real issue with real stakes. This year, I got sunburnt, ate about eleven meals, and rode my bike around a festive Washington D.C., but last year I took a road trip down to South Carolina and spent the Fourth of July on a navy base close to Charleston. I think there’s something great about traveling for this holiday–seeing the country you live in, seeing how much bigger it is than the 30-mile radius of your home. And about your trip to Illinois, in particular–I won’t lie: sometimes I think there’s something just a little more American about the Midwest.

  16. Ben H on July 5, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    My friends from Japan are an especially interesting example because from an economic standpoint there isn’t much reason for a Japanese person to move to the U.S. Japan is very prosperous, with a per capita GNP similar to the U.S. The father in this case does tax accounting, some of it for Japanese corporations. They’re pulling their weight, Tony.

  17. Tony on July 5, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    “Neither corporations nor individuals are permitted under the law to bring in foreign nationals to do work at a fraction of the salary that “qualified Americans” earn.” Are you familiar with the H1B visa program? Obviously you are not, and your ignorance is showing (by ignorance I mean “The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed“, and I don’t mean it as a slam. I say this because you already made this a racial issue so I wouldn’t be surprised if you accused me of making ad hominem attacks).

    You didn’t answer my question…what do you for a living? Are you at risk of foreign nationals taking your job? I’m a professional and I am at great risk so this is an issue that affects me greatly. Forgive me if my opinions seem “odious” to you…I’m funny that way when it comes to issues that affect my livelihood and ability to support my family.

  18. Mark B. on July 5, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    Yes, Tony, I happen to be familiar with the H-1B1 visa category. The clients whom I have represented in obtaining H-1B1 visas for their employees thankfully do not share your opinions as to my ignorance of the program.

    They know, because I have told them, that they are required under the program to pay their employees the not less than “prevailing wage” for “the occupational classification in the area of intended employment.” 20 CFR Sec. 655.731(a)(2). “Prevailing wage” is defined as “the arithmetic mean of the wages of workers similarly employed.” 20 CFR Sec. 655.731(a)(2)(ii).

    You can read the rest of the regulation online–it makes scintillating after-dinner reading, and can cure insomnia to boot. I don’t know how to make link, but here’s the url: http://frwebgate5.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate.cgi?WAISdocID=59891718106+8+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve.

    Note to A. Greenwood: I agree–not all arguments in favor of limiting immigration are odious. Those that can be reduced simply to “I was here first, and therefore deserve to be here–and you don’t” are.

    Now, I’ll end my part of this threadjack.

  19. Tony on July 5, 2005 at 6:29 pm

    Oh, well, how could I possibly hope to debate with the all powerful attorney, I, a mere mortal, a layman… (insert “roll eyes” icon here)

    “I was here first, and therefore deserve to be here–and you don’t” . When did I ever say that? Don’t put words in my mouth, counselor… Ooops, there I go again, question the all-powerful attorney…

  20. Mike Wilson on July 5, 2005 at 9:02 pm

    Ben,

    Thanks for the post. I also at times find myself feeling a greater allegiance to fellow members of my religious community that to members of my citizenry. Sometimes it feels like we have to make a choice between the interest of our country/government and the interests of humanity (in the context of us all being God’s children). When that conflict is serious, what do we chose? Brigham obviously chose to interact with the US government in a way very different than the “patriotism” that is propped up in the Mormon culture today.

    And Tony, if I were on the other side of our southern border, I would think long and hard about heading north for a few years to take care of my family when the resources are just not available to do so where I am.

  21. annegb on July 5, 2005 at 9:59 pm

    Ben, I appreciated your post. I love this country, and one of the things I love is that I can dissent loudly as often as I want.

    But I’m kind of tired of all the fighting and name calling and vulgarity.

    This is a good country, of good people. Not a perfect country, of perfect people. I’m proud of us.

  22. Lisa B. on July 21, 2005 at 10:56 am

    Ben… You said “I could say a lot more. I came across Joseph’s grave essentially by accident . . . maybe later.”

    Is is later? Can you say more?