A few years ago, while on a work-related trip in Southeastern Asia, I met with a man who represented the Vietnam-U.S. Friendship Association. We sat and talked for awhile, and he shared with me what was happening in his country. He told me that the Vietnam War (known there as the American War) no longer mattered. Aside from the fact that more than half of the country’s population was born long after the war was over, the Vietnamese people, he told me, were looking ahead. “The past is past,” he said. “We live today and dream of the future.”
As has been the case in many countries I’ve visited, the Vietnamese knew the history of the United States fairly well, perhaps better than the average American. They knew the United States that included George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Declaration of Independence. (In fact, the first line of Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese Declaration of Indpendence, written in 1945, was taken from the American version.)
The poet Langston Hughes, an African-American born in 1902, writes of this America in his poem, “Let America Be America Again”—
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
Hughes knew of the America of liberty, of freedom, of equality, but he added, “(America never was America to me.)”
I was reminded of the lines to this poem a few days ago, when I found myself sitting on my parents’ living room floor, absorbed in a discussion about the results of the election which turned into a conversation about race and racism in the United States. I was pleased with the election results for various reasons; mostly, it seems as though government (at least ours) is least effective when all branches are controlled by the same party. High voter turnout in a mid-term election has restored some of my faith in the American populace. Unseating six incumbent Senators is also significant, since, as someone once pointed out, incumbents are harder to get rid of than a cockroach infestation in the kitchen. I was a little skeptical about having Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House, but so far, she’s saying the right things, promising to work hard at bipartisanship and encouraging moderates within the Democratic Party. Without putting too much faith in the political system, I feel more hopeful now than I did after the last election.
“O, let America be America again,” penned Hughes, with words that echo my own sentiments. “The land that has never been yet– And yet must be– “