America the Beautiful

I remember my mother tying the American flag to a pole fixed to the wooden railing of our second floor veranda, red white and blue like our Union Jack, except much brighter, with stars as well as stripes.

American flag

A curious townswoman in the street below called up, "Why you flying the American flag, ma’am?"

"President Roosevelt died," Mother told her. "He’s the president of America."

Our little Jamaican country town was somber, quiet.аIt was April 1945, and I was just a child.аI knew nothing of the great war that would wind down in Europe in another month, and in the Pacific just four months later. I only knew that the president of the golden country to the north had died.

The only Americans I knew were the soldiers and airmen at Vernam Field, the U.S. Army Air Force base some miles outside our town. They were tall and confident and full of jokes. Whenever they came into our tavern they would lift me up onto the counter and ply me with American goodies, Hershey and Babe Ruth candy bars. I was only five, and they thought I was cute. The only other American I knew was Father Shanahan, the bigger-than-life Jesuit who was our parish priest.аHe had the same air of confidence as these young soldiers.а

I also thought all Americans were white, until the day a soldier who said his name was Yoshi came to introduce himself to our family.аI imagine he was homesick, and we must have reminded him of his family because we looked like him.аHe was Japanese, though, not Chinese.аMaybe we were too different to satisfy his hunger for home.аOr maybe he shipped out soon after.аWhatever the reason, I don’t remember seeing Yoshi again after that one visit.а

There was something about the Americans of Vernam Field that sparked in me a yearning for that country of self-confident, generous, often rowdy and brash people. They were so different from everyone I knew. I think it was the self-assurance, the cockiness, and that sense of knowing who they were and why they were here in this little country town on an island in the middle of the Caribbean.аOr so it appeared to me.аI loved that about them.аI envied them because they were everything I was not.аThen and there, America became the Promised Land for me.

Now, of course, I know that the Yoshis of America had been torn away from family and home in the name of national security, and at the hand of the very same president we mourned.аYet Yoshi chose to serve, more than likely to prove his loyalty.аLoss of life was a price he and others like him were willing to pay for membership in the fraternity.а

I became an American many years later.аI have learned to see my adopted country with more discernment than my five-year-old self.аIn today’s America, the lines of identity are less finely drawn.ааNow, the archetypal Yoshi has different names from many different cultures – whether it’s Jewish, Hispanic, Asian, African, or whatever ethnic groups is the least favored of the day. We ought not to forget that the Irish, Italians, Germans and other European immigrants also bore the brunt of prejudice. At any given time, what happened to Yoshi and his family could happen to any one of us.аWe are Americans, but we no longer have the assurance that other Americans will know who we are.

Yes, we are a fractious, opinionated, and sometimes myopic people.аWe have our share of crazies who express their private insanity in the most public of ways with often devastating consequences.аWe are capable of cold prejudice and self-righteous intolerance. Yet for all of that, we are also brave beyond words. We have amazing depths of compassion and an unerring sense of what is right even when it goes against the popular grain.аAnd some of us still dare to take a stand for the Yoshis of the world.а

In today’s atmosphere of extreme distrust, intolerance and fear, where our Yoshis now have Middle Eastern names, it would be so easy to tip the balance between these two sides of our national character.а I’m counting on our better angels to tip the scale.


Which side are we on?

Let’s hope it’s on the side

of humanity.



аI first wrote this piece in May 2002, following the craziness that was 9/11 and its aftermath.а A mere seven years later, America had reinvented herself. Who would have considered the possibility of a black president of the United States?а There was hope for us after all.

Now, here it is just six years later, and once again I find my hopes for America being challenged. I hardly know what to make of the current insanity on the home front and around the world. I can only trust that our values as Americans, which led me to become a naturalized immigrant, will not be compromised.а

Have a Starbucks Christmas

Pardon me for getting a jump on Christmas, but I am so amused and bemused by the recent brouhaha over the Starbucks red holiday cup that I’m not waiting for Thanksgiving and Black Friday to comment. What is so fricking offensive about the plain red cup embellished only with the green Starbucks logo that has Christian fundamentalists frothing over their whipped cream topped Chestnut Praline Latte?а I mean, really people!

Starbucks cup

I love Ellen DeGeneres’ funny response to the controversy.а She explains that these people are mad because Starbucks is being anti-Christmas. That’s because “the old cups had snowflakes, Santa’s sleigh and elves -- you know, all the things that you find in the bible.” She muses that this plain red cup may as well be called Satan sippers. But then, who’s she to talk? After all, she’s gay.

Stephen Colbert went even further on The Late Show by offering a silly solution to the unadorned Starbucks cup – cramming people’s cups with so much Christmas that “they’ll be picking tinsel out of their Yule Log for months.” аSilliness to fight silliness. Works for me.

I can see we’re getting off to a good start on the holiday season of “peace and goodwill to all men.” Notice it doesn’t say “… and women.” аStrike two, Ellen. I can’t wait to see what else will piss people off as the seasonal frenzy sets in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I’m looking forward to decorating my fake coconut tree with lots of lights and shiny ornaments, and a gold Buddha hanging out in the branches. Hey, maybe we should boycott Macy’s because I got the Buddha ornament from the store’s holiday display a few years back.

Maybe we should also ban the carols that have nothing to do with the Christian Christmas.а You know, carols like “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”?

It occurs to me that self-righteous people tend to be humorless, and will likely take exception to this blog. To me, a lack of humor is a sign that we’re taking ourselves way too seriously. Speaking of humor, I see that the Donald has had his say about the Starbucks dust-up. Now, I’m not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I wonder if he hasn’t been having a laugh at his conservative base’s expense throughout his so-called campaign. For example, how about his promise to build his infamous mega-wall along the Mexican border to keep those pesky illegals out? Really? And on top of that, he’d make the Mexican government pay for it. Double really? Maybe he was trying to see how far he could go on the absurdity scale and get away with it. (Great for ratings … and poll numbers.) As I watch his various antics, it seems as if he’s playing the role of being a conservative – almost a caricature – on his own comedy TV show. If that’s his game, he’s no Stephen Colbert. On the other hand, if he really believes his own nonsense, then Buddha help us! And what does that say about the people who have been cheering him on and keeping his poll numbers high? а

Of course, this is all great stuff for the comedians who love The Donald for making their jobs so easy.а Getting back to Starbucks … my favorite new comic, Trevor Noah who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, did his own riff on Trump and Starbucks. аWhen Trump suggested boycotting his Trump Tower Starbucks, and promised that if he becomes president, we’ll all be saying “Merry Christmas!” Noah said it was like watching the most backwards Christmas movie ever, like the rich out of touch businessman is the one trying to save Christmas, and Tiny Tim is an atheist.

So there, Starbucks.



For all that, let me just say:

Happy Holidays!

ай Maya Leland 2014