Let me tell you a story—a parable as it were.

Back around the turn of the century, a father hosted a groom’s dinner. There had been an open bar and the food was good and the father felt warm and expansive and generous as he rose to give a toast.

His theme was assimilation. The dinner was long ago and the memory is getting dimmer, but he probably talked about how his Danish grandparents came to Wisconsin in the 19th century and assimilated. He probably talked about how his own wife’s mother had been born in this country but only began to assimilate when she first arrived at school because her parents had spoken Norwegian at home. He probably talked about how his son’s bride’s family came from Korea much later, in the middle of the 20th century, and was now assimilating. He went on like that for a while and the toast was well received, so he went back to his table and sat down.

Next to his son’s roommate’s girlfriend. He suddenly remembered that for her his image of the great American melting pot was a bit out of focus, because she was Paiute Shoshone.

He mumbled something, now mercifully forgotten.

“It’s OK,” she replied kindly. “I know what you were trying to say.”

What he had been trying to say, or at least should have been trying to say, was: “Welcome.”

Fast forward one generation. The parents of that groom, now grandparents, several years ago began to sponsor midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy and welcomed a succession of young strangers into their empty nest. Then this year they got an email from a young man who had attended that long-ago wedding, although he didn’t actually remember it because he had been so little. He was the son of a cousin of that bride and now was about to graduate from the Academy and be commissioned an ensign. He had only recently become aware of any family connection in Annapolis, and could he come over and visit?

He could and did, and that is how Cathe and I—the parents/grandparents in the fable—became acquainted with this unknown kinsman.

Cathe being a congenital and congenial hostess, her immediate instinct was to offer to put on a graduation-eve party for our newfound “nephew-in-law” and his visiting family. In just a few days, and at a late date only weeks from graduation, it grew by accretion to include several of his graduating classmates and their families.

And thus Cathe and I became aware of a subset of the Academy population: He and his closest friends are all first-generation Americans—another Korean American, a Colombian American, a Filipino American. Is this grouping a coincidence or is some unseen dynamic at work at the Naval Academy?

 

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