In our last blog post, we featured an excerpt from our Executive Director Sister Mary Scullion’s Keynote Address at the May 6 50th anniversary celebration of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. Here is a second excerpt from that talk. (Part one may be found here.)
These days, we are witnessing a truly frightening increase in voices that call for an America that is closed off from others, an America that protects “us” from “them.” These voices evoke the ugliest parts of our history – chauvinism, nativism, racism. These are truly dangerous voices, but we know they are rooted in fear. When economic opportunities shrink and the futures of many persons and families are more and more uncertain, it is easy to project blame on those we deem outsiders. This fear becomes irrational anger that is channeled against people and groups we see as different. Rather than trying to discern and address the real economic and political dynamics that are undermining the health and viability of our communities, it is easier to believe in and castigate imaginary villains.
This is one reason why the work you do is so urgent today. Your mission combines two critically important goals. One, of course, is economic development of this community. You are working in many creative and strategic ways to ensure that in these uncertain times, in the face of profound economic and political challenges, these neighbors have full opportunities to flourish. You are addressing issues of education for young people. You are working to stimulate economic activity that can bring about jobs and commerce. You are developing the appropriate social supports for our beloved seniors and other members of the community with special needs. In effect, you are trying to realize the American dream of “liberty and justice” for all.
But your other key goal is just as important: For this past half-century, you have been committed to nurturing the unique cultural heritage embodied in this neighborhood. In direct opposition to those voices that insist that America is threatened by ethnic differences, you are boldly and beautifully demonstrating that in fact our nation is deeply enriched by the tapestry of cultures that have always made up the American people. Whether through art and architecture, holidays and cultural celebrations, food and fashion, traditions and values, you proudly proclaim who you are. You bring the beauty and wonder of Chinese heritage as a gift to our city and our nation – and, let us say it unequivocably, you are part of this nation. No less than my Irish immigrant parents, no less than the families who for centuries have made their way to this land from countless places across the world, your community has helped build America, has given life to the American promise of freedom and democracy. The miracle of this land, when it is allowed full and true expression, is that we are stronger precisely when we celebrate our diverse ethnicities. A true American heritage and history is this beautiful mystery of many strands that are both one and multiple at the same time. Those who seek to diminish this reality in the name of supposedly strengthening some phantom monolithic America are in fact weakening America. The work you do, in promoting this proud and beautiful Chinese community, is what truly strengthens all of us in America.
This community is stronger for the great work you have done ever since your initial efforts back in 1966. But not just Chinatown – Philadelphia as a whole is a stronger, more vibrant city. And I know that in just two short years of our wonderful collaboration, Project HOME is already a stronger community for knowing and working with you.
But I believe something even more important: Your work makes our nation stronger. Your vision of community, your celebration of heritage, your promotion of economic, social, and cultural well-being – these challenge America to its truest self.
Just down the street, you have helped over a hundred persons come home to a house of peace. You are also leading America on the way home -- and let us hope that too is a house of peace for all people.