Saturday, November 03, 2007

America: We've put the welcome mat away

Got back late last night from Washington. Many thanks to my son Ben for making it possible for me to travel anywhere, anytime.

On the morning before I left, I had a long talk with Bianca from Germany. Why, she wanted to know, did America make it so difficult for foreigners to visit? Before Bush, America was the place to go. Everyone wanted to come here, and everyone felt welcome. Why would Americans want to squander all the good will they had abroad?

Bianca said she was detained at the airport as security went through all her things and asked her various offensive questions. It was insulting and humiliating. Others of her acquaintance had had the same sort of experience.

I could not give her a satisfactory answer, except to say that in our essentially isolationist hearts, we don't care a whole lot about what the world thinks about us. We've never experienced the consequences of not getting along with our neighbors, since we have no neighbors that are even remotely threatening to us. Most Americans don't think much about the rest of the world at all.

The day I came home, I found this news article about the appalling treatment a group of Finnish folksingers received at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in Minnesota.

Minnesota's Finnish guests find a rude airport welcome
When three of Finland's most popular musicians, including one described as that country's Bruce Springsteen, arrived for a recent tour in Minnesota, they expected a quick trip through airport customs.

Instead, immigration agents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport subjected them to more than two hours of interrogation that the musicians considered so harsh and demeaning that they filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki.

"It was almost three hours of screaming, door-slamming and accusations, according to the report I received," said Marianne Wargelin, honorary Finnish consul for the Dakotas and most of Minnesota, which has the second largest Finnish-American population in the nation.

Erkki Maattanen, a filmmaker for Finnish Public Television who accompanied the musicians on the September trip, said his questioners seemed to think the entourage was smuggling drugs or intending to work without a permit. "I kept trying to tell them why we were here, but they'd just yell, 'Shut up!"' he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at the airport declined to comment, referring questions to regional press officer Brett Sturgeon.

Read more....
Bianca had mentioned her admiration for the Finns, evidently not one shared by our security apparatus.

Washington itself, however, is a national treasure, free to all to enjoy, and we must keep it in the hands of the people. Don't let the neothugs who now run our country try to privatize it.

I spent Thursday and part of Friday at the Smithsonian. I can't say I covered much ground. I'm the kind of person, if I'm interested in a subject, I can't just skim over it. The two subjects I was most interested in, American History and Arts and Industry, were both closed for remodeling. But I found that there were two special exhibits at the Museum of Natural History:

"Emissaries of Peace," a history of Cherokee-British relations, which I'll write about separately; and

"African Voices," which "examines the diversity and dynamism of this huge continent. Sound stations provide interviews, folk tales, songs and oral epics ... " There is an aqal, a Somali portable dwelling traditionally built and owned by women, next to a video interview of two Somali-Americans who describe their upbringing in an aqal and the traditions they grew up with.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, videos covered the history of slavery and African programs to eradicate childhood disease. There were displays on cooking, traditional dishes and the staples of various African communities, such as wheat, rice, teft, millet and yams. Another display was of ingenious toys that African children had made using discarded objects such as wood and metal scraps and rubber flip-flops.

You got a sense of a coiled energy, waiting to spring forth.

I spent about 3 hours in these two exhibitions.

Here are a few final photos of Washington.

A peaceful garden, one of many adjacent to the National Mall:

A merry-go-round right on the Mall:

And our national symbol, those ubiquitous golden arches:

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home