Intercultural Reception in Honor of Martin Luther King Day

Intercultural Reception at the CMR
Berlin, January 14, 2016
Ambassador John B. Emerson

Thank you, Anne Byrne and Kelvin Sholar.
On behalf of my wife, Kimberly, and our daughters, I would like to welcome you all to our home and thank all the religious, civil society, and government leaders present tonight for joining us this evening for an advance celebration of Martin Luther King Day.  This is the third time we have hosted this event; and we always love the energy that you all bring.  Speaking of energy, this evening we are joined as well by the students of the Stanford University campus here in Berlin.

At this moment in time, the subject that is on everybody’s minds here in Germany is one that is central to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – and that is integration.  Kimberly and I and our colleagues at the Embassy have had fascinating and gratifying conversations with many of you about the work that is being done in this regard – across the spectrum of government, faith-based organizations, and NGOs.  We thank you for your openness and, in many cases, your hospitality.

Every year, on the third Monday in January, America sets aside a day to remember the work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement.  He devoted his life to the struggle for justice and equality.  Dr. King’s leadership united people of all backgrounds in a quest for freedom and basic civil rights.  He led marches and protests.  As a result, America changed, and because people marched, a civil rights law was passed, and a voting rights law was signed.  America became more free and more fair – not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for the LGBT community; and for Americans with disabilities.

Dr. King was convinced that the goals of African Americans were identical to those of working people of all races.  They share the same desire to raise their families in safety and security, in communities where they are respected, and in which their children can receive a good education; and the same hope for decent wages, fair working conditions, and livable housing.  For centuries, these goals have defined the dream that has lured new arrivals to America’s shores.  And they have not changed over time.  Indeed as we are seeing here in Europe, these hopes and dreams – in fact, needs – are relevant and real.
Commemorating Dr. King’s life, therefore, is not only a tribute to his legacy, but also a reminder that every day, each one of us can play a part in continuing his work.  His teachings remind us we all have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are wealthy, in fact, especially those who are wealthy; to care about the child in the substandard school, or no school at all, long after our own children have graduated; and to show compassion toward the immigrant family, knowing that our forbearers were perhaps strangers once, too.

In working to address the challenges of integrating refugees into European society, many of you here this evening, like so many of your neighbors and fellow citizens, are honoring the strength, persistence, and determination that Dr. King stood for.

In our travels throughout Germany, people often ask if there are any “lessons” to be learned from America’s long history of integrating waves of immigrants.  It is easy to understand why: the United States is a land of immigrants.  With the exception of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Americans are all descended from individuals who came from someplace else.  First and second generation Americans number a quarter of the U.S. population.  In our hometown of Los Angeles, there are neighborhoods where within a single block there are signs in a dozen different languages.
Immigration is America’s oldest tradition; and it plays a unique role in the United States.  It is part of the secret sauce that makes America work.  The U.S. has been shaped by the energy created when people from different cultures, regions, races and faiths come together to build better lives for themselves and their children.  So many of our most successful companies were founded by immigrants – including the German immigrants who created the American motion picture industry.  And two nights ago, the eighth and final speech to a joint session of Congress was given by a President, named Barack Hussein Obama, who was the son of a Kenyan exchange student.

In the United States, we do not merely ‘tolerate’ diversity in all its facets; we embrace it as a national asset.  And Germany, in its commitment to provide immediate assistance to more than one million refugees this past year, and to work toward long-term integration, has proved that it is living those same values.

That is not to say, however, that life in America – or in Germany, for that matter – is easy for new immigrants, or for their new neighbors.  Integration is a complex process; and sometimes we fail to live up to ideals of full inclusion and equality of opportunity.  And sometimes the immigrants fail to do their part to acclimate to the values and traditions of their new land.  It is true that bigotry occurs in the United States, just as it does in every corner of the globe; but this is only a small part of the story.  A more accurate view of the United States can be found in everyday actions that do not make headlines.  Demonstrations of tolerance and respect by government officials, faith leaders, and members of civil society are, unfortunately, often not considered newsworthy.  In that respect, and equally important, is the full-throated condemnation of xenophobia and anti-Semitism from government leaders and civil society in both of our countries.

The most constructive approach to the challenge of immigration is to replicate successful models of integration.  In the United States, we believe that the more we do to help immigrants to achieve their American dream, the better off we are as a country.

I believe the foundation for successful integration rests on four pillars, each of which requires commitment from both our citizens and the immigrants.
The first pillar is linguistic integration.  In the U.S., access to English enables individuals to prosper both academically and economically, and engage more fully in their communities.  I am impressed by the large numbers of volunteers teaching German at refugee centers here in this country; and Kimberly and I have visited several of them – donating language workbooks purchased by the Embassy.
The second pillar is economic integration.  Helping immigrants to fully realize their potential – making it easier for them to find work, providing job training, and in turn increasing their willingness to work hard – is a key aspect of our economic growth.

The third pillar is the provision of a clear path to citizenship.  This process requires commitment both by the government and the applicant seeking citizenship.  One of the great pleasures of my life has been participating in new citizenship ceremonies – whether in Los Angeles or at our Consulate in Frankfurt.

And that brings me to the fourth pillar – the civic integration which occurs when members of a town or a city are welcomed, feel that they belong, and are secure in their rights and responsibilities.  That includes, as Chancellor Merkel recently said, a respect for the laws, traditions, and values of the host country.

One of the most important factors, however, is developing the potential for individuals to connect and work together with others on a community level.  Integration is not something immigrants and refugees can achieve in isolation.  And it is perhaps important to consider that the challenges and opportunities of integration are met not by making ‘them’ like ‘us,’ but rather by creating a new, more inclusive sense of ‘we.’
This is – and never has been – an easy process, but remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As he once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Thank you very much.