In view of today's issue of immigration, it is appropriate to include in this blog the
remarks by Garrison Keillor delivered in Denmark on the 4th of July in 1991.
Fourth of July, 1991
Celebration Theme: Education and Exchange
by Garrison Keillor Translated by John M. Ramsay
(singing in Danish)
They are five million people
And they are friendly folk, all of them (hey, hey, hey)—
This is lovely ground
The best to be found
It is my wife's home (and she's the one who thinks so).
They are five million people
And they come to Rebild , you and I — Jette, Jytte, Jesper , Jens,
Hanne, Hilde, Henrik, Hans —To celebrate the 4th of July
(spoken in English)
Good day, my Danes and my Americans. Thanks a lot for coming here for the 4th of July holiday — the Fourth of July — freedom's birthday in my country. It's an important holiday when my countrymen are free to go to their summer homes and watch baseball games on TV and drink Budwiser and eat hamburgers. They can enjoy their free day because they know that you are here celebrating the day as it should be celebrated.
I'm happy to be here because I am a typical American — very typical — and there are not as many of us typical Americans as there were a few years ago. I smile on seeing the Stars and Stripes, hearing Ray Charles or Merle Haggard, or smelling hot dogs and knowing that I'll find trash in the streets. That is a clue that my countrymen are nearby. If I hear a loud shout, I think, "Yes, it's them, they're coming."
I am tall and strong , I am straight and innocent, honest and modest, and you are heldige kartojfler (lucky potatoes) to have me here. I would be ashamed to say that in English, that's why I said it in Danish. The most important freedom is freedom of speech and I have the greatest freedom to speak if I speak Danish because then I can't understand what I'm saying and therefore there is less to hold me back.
As an American, I say that I don't know whether we believe in international exchange. We aren't quite sure that we go for that. Why should we travel to strange countries and learn their bizarre culture? An eat their awful food? And read their grim language? We Americans believe that all foreigners surely can understand English —if we speak slowly and loud and hold a dollar up? They can understand us. So,why don't they go for it? Why should we travel a long distance to become happy if we can be happy at home? International exchange. With whom? With Danes? Okay. They are good enough. Some Danes. Those there (pointing) and those back there. Maybe a few others. Swedes are much too formal, and the French are overconfident, and the Germans are far too rich — or they were far too rich — and the English almost perfectly, but not entirely perfect. Why should we be concerned with foreigners? That's what I asked my wife. The right exchange is to be married to a foreigner, as my wife has done. Why? I don 't know that. But I do enjoy visiting Denmark, my mother-in-law-land, and am happy to speak Danish.
I really do enjoy to speak Danish. Or to try. It's a beautiful and expressive language with its own music. At the end of the day, you clear all the r's out of your throat and go to sleep and have Danish dreams — fuglerne sit in the trr and they synger the sanger of Grundtvig. The Danes who left this land for America missed their language most of all, the danske sprog, deres moders stemme. When they arrived in New York or Chicago or the prairies of Iowa and Nebraska, they saw right away that the streets were not made of gold and the land was not paradise, but that was all right, Danes are used to being disappointed. It was worse that they were cut off from Danish life, the only life they knew, and that day by day they began to lose their language. And they had to take up English, a language in which they could not be nearly so funny. It's true. Even 1 am much funnier in Danish than in English, it's just that l don't understand the jokes myself.
Some of the Danes who left never looked back but most of them did, such as William and Inger Rasmussen who emigrated in 1951 and who have been back in Denmark every year since and are here today. They brought up their children to be Americans but of course they read them "Ned I Fru Hansens Kaelder and "Peter Mathiesen rid pa grisen" from "Okker, Gokker, Gummi Klokker," because how could you speak English to a little child? It wouldn't be right.
Immigrants brought their dreams to America, and America was a more humane society when we were more influenced by foreigners. The immigrants had a great public spirit and a love of America and the American dream, but then, America began to turn inward --- mesmerized by advertising, by movies, by plastic images and fairy tales, and a pure Americanism that never existed --- and today, my country, the nation of all nations, is struggling to save its own soul.
We need international exchange for the good of our souls. We may not like foreigners, we may see them as strangers, but God above does not, and God expects us to see them as human beings. If America had any contact with the Arab world, any common culture, any bonds of language or religion, would we have poured such destruction on Iraq? And would we celebrate it like a football victory? Would we kill a hundred thousand Iraqis and simply not care about them? We did not care about them because we do not see them as human. But God does. And God have mercy on us.
The American soul is an idea. We are not a people --- vi er ikke et folk , vi er mange folk, et land--- and our soul is borrowed --- vores ,sjcel er lånt --- we take our soul from all those who believed in the American idea. The American soul comes from immigrants. America is one big international exchange. There are no real Americans; the country was invented by people who were far from home. When you are away from home, you are naked, confused, depressed. That's when you find out what you really believe in. To comfortable people, having a dream sounds fancy, but that's almost all the immigrants had --- an idea. The idea was not wealth --- ikke rigdom --- was not power --- ikke magt --- the idea was freedom --- demokratisk frihed --- and peace.
lt is good to come to Denmark. I am happy to visit your country and walk around in the area and smell the flowers and eat red herring with egg yolk and drink schnaps and celebrate the Fourth of July.
As we say in English, it touches my heart --- I'm pleased that so many Danes know about the Fourth of July --- the American dream, the American dream for the whole world. Therefore we can all say, in freedom and peace, may America prosper. / frihed og fred, laenge leve America.