Last week we climbed to our seats behind the third base line. Half British, raised in Europe, my sons have grown up on football (read: soccer). This was their very first experience in the stands of America’s past time.
We sat in hard, blue seats and drank plastic cups full of beer and explained the rules to our sons. The little one sat with a mitt borrowed from a friend in case a foul ball made it high into the stands. The announcer asked fans to remove their hats, a catch-all sign of respect I remember from my school girl days. The Star-Spangled Banner was warbled, hands were pressed firmly over red, white and blue hearts and then it was “Play Ball!” I swallowed the small lump that had formed in my throat.
I imagine the scene that played out in front of me is what a lot of angry folks envision when they scream about making America great again. Family and hot dogs and the good, clean thwack of ball and bat. Peanuts and cracker-jacks, I don’t care if I never get back. Root, root, root for the home team.
On that night the home team consisted of Cruz, Diaz, Menendez, Garcia, Ramirez, and Rodriguez, Castillo and Ramos.
Hmm….those names sure sound different from the ones which signed on the dotted line–different in ethnicity and culture from Hancock and Adams and Franklin–names which our founding fathers may not have anticipated but who are here nonetheless, part and parcel of these fruited plains. They are here, playing that most American of games, being cheered on by some of the very people screaming for their removal from sea to shining sea.
Those immigrants so many people are pissed off at, blaming for everything from the economy to terror? Some of them are on that diamond, representing the very thing they’re harkening to get back too with one breath while they scream at them to get the hell out with another.
Is it ok then if the sons and daughters of immigrants are scoring goals for the teams we support, batting runs in and catching pop flies? I’ve seen the same phenomenon hold true in the beautiful game (yes, soccer) as well. The most famous Swedish footballer of the moment is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, son of a Serbian Muslim and a Croatian Catholic and thoroughly Swedish. How many black footballers play for England or Wales who are the descendants of West Indian immigrants to England’s green and pleasant lands?
Somehow we are able to overlook the issue of immigration when the immigrant is striking out batters or scoring goals. But whether they are sports stars or the doctors diagnosing your cancer or the carers who look after your aged granny or the ones who ring up your groceries they all have something in common. They are not included in the versions of America or Britain that folks are clamoring, and voting, to get back to.
Gone are the days when American meant white people root, root, rooting for the whiter than bleached out White Sox. Gone are the days when British meant white, pasty, bowler hatted gents. Gone are the days when Swedish meant blonde and Dutch tall and clog-shod. Gone are the days when an entire country went to war on the principle of a master race of blonde, blue-eyed boys.
Thank God, right?
As I sat and watched balls cracked into the outfield and slides into home plate, I was once again reminded that Great America has always been large enough to encompass peanuts, cracker-jacks and some different sounding last names. This land is your land, this land is my land and from California to the New York Islands, it is big enough and expansive enough to absorb variety and differences.
Maybe a son or daughter of immigration is hitting that home run out of the park. Maybe he’s selling the Crackerjacks you’re eating. How do you know who is going to be the next no-hitter Ramirez or hat-trick Ibrahimović? The fact is, they are a part of America, a part of an inclusive Europe. Part of what makes it great.
At the end of the day, the baseball players on the field are more American than my own kids, who are growing up as immigrants in another country. Kids who we thought would be part of the new global order, at home in the world at large rather than an isolationist one.
Maybe the entire world needs to take a seventh inning stretch and think a little harder about what they’re trying to recreate before they strike out permanently or lose it all in a penalty shoot-out with stakes higher than any of us should have to imagine.