Saturday, July 4, 2009

As we were rolling out of Kashgar, Breckan was stopped by a well dressed young man who wanted to practice his english. He was well-spoken and seemed sharp and was a Uigher (you could tell by the mustache). Quickly the conversation, as it often had during our stay in Kashgar, veered towards the dicey situation the uighers have found themselves in. Not chinese but living in china, their prospect for cultural survival is anything but assured.

He asked where we were from and Breckan told him America. As hokey as it sounds his face lit up.

"I am Uighur," he proudly said, "but I dream of being an American." "Here I can not be a Uigher and I can not be Chinese. I can not live here. In America I can be everything."

My eyes tend to roll a little bit when sentiments like this are expressed because I know the streets are not paved with gold. I know of the ignorance and intolerance and hardships that immigrants will face. I know that while the American dream is certainly something that can be attained, many dewy eyed immigrants get ground down and out by lack of quick success and destruction of their false hopes for quick and easy success. And yet, I believe in America and it's hard not to pat these young men on the back and say, "You'll get there. You'll make it."

As the conversation ended the young man expressed a sentiment that we had heard over and over again during our trip- "In America, everyone can be American. American is a good country. America does what is right."

"Most of the time," I replied.

A week later this article hit the wires and as I read it my heart sunk a little. We had shirked our burden. We had shrugged our shoulders. We had let our obligation to the world slide. We stood a little smaller.

On this Independence day, as I sit in a country surrounded by people, who's future is inextricably tied to the choices we are making in America, I think about the obligations we carry as Americans. We have obligated ourselves, perhaps unintentionally, to be a light on the hill. We have stood and shouted to the world, in no uncertain terms, "We are moral. We are good. We are who you should look to. We are what you should aspire to be. We do not believe the ends justifies the means. America does what is right." And quite often this is true.

However, when we fail, when we falter, we strive to hold those who are responsible accountable for our missteps. We right the ship, we admit our failings and we move forward again. We do not equivocate. We do not rationalize. We do not explain away our wrongs with double-speak and euphemisms. This is the dream America promises and often does not fulfill but continually works for. This is the America I believe in, but to often recently this is not the America I have seen.

We have retreated from our obligations to goodness. We have searched for the lowest common denominator and then rationalized our moral failings. We have tortured. We have bickered. We have forgotten who we are and let our thinking be done by strategists and pundits on both sides of the issues. We have to often abandoned our core beliefs in goodness and progress and hunkered down and dug in and shut off our intellects. We can do better.

On this fourth of July, spent on the far side of the earth, I am deeply grateful for being born a citizen of the United States. I am grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me, but am aware that those blessings come with obligations and responsibilities. Here's hoping Americans remember anew the obligations we have to those who yearn to breath free. The obligation to provide hope to those who feel hopeless. The obligation to do what is right.


  1. I had wondered why on earth a Uyghur wound up in Guantanamo. Then I went to Kashgar. And then I read this article:
    It's sad only if you don't say something about it. Thanks for saying something about it. You guys give Americans a good name - in a place where we sorely need it!

  2. I agree Spencer- what a good way to put it :)