A Rainbow in Tucson

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published January 19, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Here is just one of the very many Tucson stories that have now become part of who we are: It is a story told by the political commentator Mark Shields, quoting his friend Allen Ginsberg, a historian in Maine: What we have witnessed (in part) is a white, Catholic, Republican federal judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic woman, a member of Congress, who was his friend and is Jewish. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old, openly gay Mexican-American college student, Daniel Hernandez, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, Dr. Peter Rhee. And then it was all eulogized and explained by our African-American president.

Above all else, this is a quintessentially American story; if not “only in America,” then only in a tiny handful of countries. As against some of the confusing Tucson stories that are still being pieced together, it is both succinct and inspiring.

We do not know and may never know for sure how much of Jared Lee Loughner’s bizarre behavior owes to his evident mental illness, how much (if any) was encouraged by the mean-spirited political rhetoric of our time, and how much by a culture that seems fixated on zombies and vampires, and how much by an Internet that enables people to create for themselves alternate realities and then present those to the world.

We will never know what lay in store for Christina Taylor Green, of whom President Obama, in a speech that was pitch perfect, said: “Here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.”

None of us can say whether Christina would have grown into cynicism (a word that has become a compliment in large segments of the current youth culture) or become a younger colleague of Gabe Zimmerman, Gabby Giffords’s outreach director, fatally shot that awful morning. All we can do is what the president urged upon us: “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”

These days, that is a very substantial challenge, and it is reasonable to expect that if we move in that redeemed direction, we will not move in a straight line or even at a steep angle. We’re told that even minimal repairs to our gun laws — to our national discredit, they, too, are an “only in America” phenomenon — are exceedingly unlikely. Incivility will almost surely remain the stock in trade of some of our prominent talk show hosts and bloggers. More generally, the generous response to events such as the assault in Tucson tends to be spasmodic — grief, empathy, shame and then, in a matter of weeks, business pretty much as usual.

But here we have at least one uncommon opportunity, one that derives quite directly from the story with which I began this commentary. Starting with an urgent reconsideration of the proposed DREAM Act, we can have a new and newly informed appreciation of what immigration has meant and can yet mean to our nation’s growth. And perhaps we can also newly appreciate the blessings of diversity.

Diversity has not always been thought praiseworthy in America. Thomas Jefferson worried that immigrants would “infuse into [legislation] their spirit, warp and bias its directions, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass.” John Quincy Adams held that new immigrants “must cast off the European skin, never to resume it. They must look forward to their posterity rather than backward to their ancestors.” And Woodrow Wilson believed that “A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group has not yet become an American.”

In short, Walt Whitman’s celebration of America’s diversity was not echoed by our political echelon, nor, for that matter, by our academic community. There was, historically, little appreciation for the hyphenated American. Israel Zangwill’s “Melting Pot” (1908) reflected the conventional view: “Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians — into the crucible with you all! God is making the American.”

It was the philosopher Horace Kallen who coined the term “cultural pluralism,” who saw that a free America need not reject the hyphen, that people can be wholly Mexican and wholly American, wholly Jewish and wholly American, and so forth. In America, each of us is free to establish the character of our relationship to the whole, to be simultaneously, if so we desire, “a part of” and “apart from.”

A third of Arizona’s residents are Hispanic. While the state struggles and stumbles in formulating public policies, notably in law enforcement and public education, that will respond to its diversity, at least some citizens of Arizona have moved beyond such struggles. We have now met some of these, and they enrich us. As do Christina’s parents, who made her organs available for transplant to a child in Boston whose life was thereby saved.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.