Guest Columnist

American ideal is 'the merit based system'

Students pass by the rotating globe in the foyer of Linn Hall at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.(Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Students pass by the rotating globe in the foyer of Linn Hall at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.(Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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America is a nation of immigrants. The American journey and our success would simply not be possible without the generations of immigrants and slaves who have come to our shores from every corner of the globe. During this time in our generation, it is imperative to reflect on our values and acknowledge the important historical contribution by the generations of immigrants who have helped to build this world-class economy and that the core merit of the American value.

For over 280 years, America has been exceptional in renewing itself with energy, hope, drive and optimism more than any other nation in the world because of the cultural contributions from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and many other parts of the world. As a matter of fact, that beacon of light shines through every corner of the world inspiring, motivating and changing the lives of many people. The notion that we need a merit-based system to open our arms and communities to those seeking right, life, liberty and pursuit to happiness is un-American.

Iowa is a unique place with hardworking, generous, family-loving, and amazing people from all walks of life; these are Midwestern values. It is a place where a stranger can ask, “How are you?” and wait for your response before proceeding. These values give us hope for a future we wish to leave our children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, today’s politicians who want to win the vote of today’s voters are not concerned about the future.

Like any other society, we still have a long way to go to bridge the cultural relationship gap. And let’s be clear: we will never excel as a society by division through race, gender or national origin. It is wrong in all aspects of life to undermine a group of people because of their race or perceived background, class or place of origin simply because the “divide and conquer” play book worked in the past. As a society we need to remember what history has taught us.

Lately, there has been an outcry over the colorful language used to undermine a group of people from Africa and Haiti while showing preference to their European counterparts. This is wrong and cuts to the core of our value as a civilized society; it undermines the fundamental ideas that founded this nation. Those words are insensitive and offensive to many in our communities. The real concern, however, should be not on the language used, but rather on the lens which the institutional power uses to create policies.

Per Bloomberg report, of adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and living in U.S., 41.7 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher (2009) compared to 28.1 percent of their general population counterparts, so suggesting that somehow people from that part of Africa do not meet the merits of the ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is wrong and divisive.

Institutional power has been used in the past to design, insert, and implement policies that have tremendous adverse impacts on minority groups. When racial tensions influence decisions toward policies by the institutional power, history suggests that the impact will be generational and pose a great threat to our democracy and American values.

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I urge my fellow Iowans to put the country first, rather than political parties. We are stronger and exceptional when we build inclusive communities as opposed to divisive rhetoric. American Ideal is the merit system.

• Rama Muzo is president and CEO of the Intercultural Center of Iowa.

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