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David J. Chapman, Fargo, Published November 22 2012

Letter: Change essence of US

This is in response to a commentary that appeared Sunday in The Forum:

As I leave for the office each day, I pass by a sculpture of Thomas Jefferson. The historical Jefferson is the embodiment of what it means to be an American. He is the ultimate American. Jefferson was not perfect but a man with many flaws, changing views, changing opinions and great qualities. I can never get enough of Thomas Jefferson.

That is why I must respond to what I see as a very disappointing guest column by Shelton Gunaratne. His opinion attempts to cloak antagonistic gloating and divisiveness behind the guise of unity in diversity.

Gunaratne claims that naturalized citizens and immigrants place little value on the “white founders of America” or on the “primacy of the old Constitution,” but America is an ideal and not a color, and there is no old and new Constitution. Gunaratne spouts talking points about diversity within unity and claims the tea party is over, but the problem with that opinion is that the tea party never really existed as one cohesive force. The tea party was a term applied to an impermanent amalgamation of views and values. The tea party was really America experiencing its ever changing identity.

America has been an experiment in democracy since its inception. This great experiment was intended to be never ending and never static, with each succeeding generation striving to establish its own identity and its own path. Gunaratne fails to recognize this and instead casts the founders as a bunch of stogy old white men wishing to assimilate everyone into the mold of their beliefs. This is far from the truth. Jefferson believed that each succeeding generation controlled its destiny. He believed strongly in revolution and not static existence. Defining America in static terms is just as impossible as catching and confining smoke with your bare hands.

I too am an immigrant, a naturalized citizen and an immigration lawyer with a 15-year record of helping people from other nations. Unfortunately, Gunaratne’s opinion pits native-born Americans against immigrants and naturalized citizens as the catalysts for the upending of the entire ideal upon which America was founded. This attempt at divisiveness can only serve to foment anger and disgust among his fellow citizens who were born and raised here. Fortunately, his opinion does not reflect the opinion of all of us who came here from other countries.

Gunaratne also waxes poetic on the application of Buddhism to our most recent election. However, Buddhism focuses on unity, harmony and the impermanence of our very existence. No moment is exactly the same as the one before it. Elections establish nothing more than the mood of the moment. The founders established an ideal that protected the right of each generation to establish its own path to destiny; a clear recognition that impermanence is the standard. The path to destiny changes in every moment of every day. Electoral results differed in 2012 from 2010, and they will differ in 2014 and 2016 as new voters with different values come onto the scene. That is the beauty of America. If we learn anything from Buddhism, it should be that no definitive answers can be drawn from an election.

The ideal of America is change. As an immigrant, I did not come to America to be a Canadian. I could have stayed in Canada and done that. I came here to be an American. America is always new, and that is what is great about it.