Congressman Richie Neal

I hate to say I told you so, but…

Last week, I wrote about ongoing tensions at the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan.  I suggested that factions had to come together because, to many younger New Yorkers, the events of September 11 are as hazy as the events of

Pearl Harbor or Guadalcanal or Lexington and Concord.

If the process for planning the memorial drags on, or does not tell the story of 9/11 accurately and vividly, future generations might not grasp the magnitude of that terrible day.

Lo and behold, what happened this week? A bunch of middle school kids took a field trip to the 9/11 Memorial and trashed the place.

But what’s the answer?  More museums?  Better memorials? More severe punishments for misbehaving kids?

With the Fourth of July once again upon us, it is a fair time to raise these questions.  If the loutish behavior of these kids at the 9/11 Memorial proves that some don’t know what it means to be a real New Yorker, it’s also pretty clear we still don’t know what it means to be a real American.

Every Fourth of July, for example, we hear about a ceremony in which 100 or 1,000 immigrants are officially declared U.S. citizens.  This will be comforting, in part because the U.S. Supreme Court on

Monday upheld a key provision of an Arizona law allowing local police officers to investigate the immigration status of suspects detained for other alleged crimes.

Do you have your papers?  Great!  Happy Fourth of July to you, too!

Of course, it’s silly to believe anything so staid and quaint as a museum will douse the longstanding suspicions many Americans have about immigration.  Still, such institutions do play an important role. 

At their best, they remind us of the ideal contained in the immortal phrase E Pluribus Unum.  That motto (“from”) might as well be the alternative name for the

National Museum for the American People, a proposed Washington D.C. museum that would attempt to tell the stories of all immigrant groups (among other groups). 

This might ultimately help visitors see just how “American” so many of these stories really are.

Congressman Richard Neal and the Congressional Friends of Ireland Caucus have already signed on as supporters of the National Museum of the American People.

“The genesis for the idea to build a new national museum occurred more than 10 years ago as I walked by the Agriculture Department headquarters building along the National Mall in Washington,” Sam Eskenazi has explained. 

Eskenazi is spearheading the effort to construct the National Museum of the American People.

“I asked myself, ‘If this were a museum, what kind of museum could it be?’ The answer -- a museum that would tell the stories of all of the peoples coming to this land.

“I came up with a name for the museum on the spot. It is a testament to the need for the museum that many people, when told about the proposal, were surprised that such a museum doesn't already exist.”

Such a proposed museum would serve as a testament to both the unique stories of all immigrant communities, as well as their common obstacles and goals.

Some have even dubbed Eskenazi’s proposal the National Immigration Museum or the “Melting Pot” Museum.

Of course, things are not so simple. 

For example, there is currently a proposal to build a separate Irish American museum in Washington D.C. Indeed, many ethnic groups already have their own, or want to build their own, museums.

And let’s not forget the bumpy road of the American Catholic Museum, which finally closed in 2012.

Several Hispanic heritage groups have also chosen not to support the National Museum concept.  They and others understandably feel their stories are so unique and powerful they need to be told individually, rather than as part of a broader narrative.

Eskenazi has years of experience working at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, not to mention leading a U.S. Army platoon in Vietnam.  He looks like the right man to lead the cause of the National Museum of the American People.

But, for now, we remain a nation split between the “pluribus” and the “unum.” Happy Fourth of July!

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