Nov. 13, 2012
My wife and I rolled into the Exxon Mobil station to fill up our tank. Gas was cheap. (At $3.17 a gallon, that at least passes for cheap under this administration.) I stood in line to pre-pay. The kid behind the counter had a name tag: Dmitry. I heard him speaking to the person in front of me with a heavy Slavic accent.
When I came up to the counter, he asked which pump. Nomyer Shest, I said with a straight face. Number Six. Dmitry wasas the Brits would saygobsmacked. He didnt expect to see anyone in the area speaking Russian to him. I was startled, too, since I didnt expect to find any Russians in that neighborhood.
We quickly broke into razgavorconversation. Dmitry seemed genuinely excited to meet someone to whom he could speak his mother tongue. I was truly excited to realize that the language I learned in the Coast Guardeons agocame back to me so readily. (And without the obligatory shot of that clear white liquid that seems to be so essential to any conversation in Russian.)
It was two days after the 2012 presidential election. The state we were traveling through had gone for President Obama. Demographics are changing was the mantra of the election night broadcasts. They sure are, Id say, if you can hear Russian being spoken in that remote area.
Last summer, on our way to the beach, we stopped at a McDonald’s just over the Delaware line. A clutch of Russians were there, happily burbling away in their language. Surrounded as I was by family, all eager to press on, I didnt try any shutkas (jokes) with the Big Mac crowd.
What are they doing in Delaware? All over America, immigration is changing our country. We need to know more about the people who are coming here. Many of us see them in church. Many of the immigrants come to America, yearning to breathe free, and eager to find a sense of community here.
In Maryland, where we live, you can hardly pass a church without seeing either Spanish-language signs for servicesoften Pentecostal servicesin mainline churches. Korean language signs are up, too, although many of these congregations have churches of their own.
In 1800, New Yorker Aaron Burr scurried around Manhattan gathering the votes of Germans, Dutch, Scots-Irish, French Huguenot and Irish immigrants. Burr was not interested in political philosophy so much as in winning elections.
Thats why youll probably never see the collected writings of Aaron Burr. Things written remain, he said, as a caution. (Ill bet Gen. Petraeus wishes he had observed that warning.)
Still, Aaron Burrs actions in New York City tipped the Empire State for the Jefferson-Burr ticket that year. New Yorks 12 Electoral Votes carried the election for the Jeffersonian Republicans.
The Federalists had passed the Alien & Sedition Acts in 1798. They viewed the immigrants with suspicion. They fretted over the demographics. They feared they would never win another election. They never did.
I must admit Im rather tickled at the idea I will get to speak Russianand not have to go to Russia. There is not much in Vladimir Putins not-quite-so-evil empire to attract me.
But I welcome those like Dmitry who come here seeking liberty, seeking an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their children. I believe we can enlist them in the pro-life, pro-family cause. I believe they will rally to the defense of religious freedom.
When Elian Gonzales, the 6-year old refugee from Cuba, was seized at gunpoint by federal agents on orders of Bill Clintons Attorney General, Janet Reno, Cuban-Americans were outraged. So was I.
Renos raiders grabbed that little boy from the arms of his loving family on Easter Sunday morning. That November, the Cuban-Americans voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush. Florida turned out to be crucial in the 2000 elections, when Bush won by a mere 537 votes statewide.
Immigrants have many times determined presidential outcomes. Are we their friends? Shouldnt we be?