American ideals must not be compromised

I was born in Russia and came with my family to the United States at the age of 14. I have to confess, like many immigrants, I often have mixed feelings about my second home. Even after almost 11 years of living here, certain aspects of this culture are still alien to me. Although I have been educated mostly in English and have expressed some of my deepest feelings in English, I still prefer to read fiction in Russian. I am not always sure how I see myself – Russian, American, both or neither.

With my occasional “identity crises” in the background, I, like many immigrants, have always tried to absorb and retain the best of both cultures. Whatever uneasiness I might feel at times about my life in the United States, I am sure of one thing: I certainly owe much of what is best in me to the American culture. It goes deeper than the external factors of personal freedom and enormous economic opportunity.

There are wonderful qualities in this culture that have greatly shaped my outlook and perception of the world: tremendous respect of an individual and of the law, desire to see justice done socially and in the courtrooms, appreciation of diversity, favor of debate over force – I believe these are some of the defining features of the American mentality.

Of course, these principles might at times be grossly violated. However, their spirit seems to be more pervasive in this culture than in many other societies. In addition, violations of these ideals normally elicit public outrage, which is telling of the value this culture places on them.

Thus, when this country came under a terrorist attack Sept. 11, I felt those behind it attacked not only the people who were on the planes and in the buildings, but also the best in me and all of us who call this country home. Many Americans, and immigrants in particular, might not always agree with the American foreign policy and might even feel strongly opposed to it, but whatever our views are, they play no role in how we judge the horror that was inflicted upon thousands of innocent people who were killed or injured, as well as all of us who appreciate everything that is good about America.

It is not the grudge against American foreign policy that lies at the heart of what happened – just pure evil in its most vicious and bloodthirsty form. Although religious fanaticism might be relevant to understanding these attacks, the primary motive behind the terrorists’ scheme and actions was the desire to kill and to destroy, which is incomprehensible to most human beings, regardless of origin, culture, and religion.

This tragedy will undoubtedly cause a lot of reflection and soul-searching. Whatever conclusions each of us will draw from it, I very much hope they will all follow the general principles that have so greatly impressed me since I arrived in this country.

Let us make sure these events do not breed undeserved blame, prejudice, and intolerance. Let us not confuse the perpetrators with peaceful individuals simply because of an association in origin or religion – they are victims, just like the rest of us. If we can uphold the ideals of fairness, tolerance and justice at such a painful and tumultuous time, then we will have truly defended America and, more importantly, stood up for ourselves.


Vera Bulaevskaya is a graduate student in the School of Statistics. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]