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Left Coast/Right Coast: A sense of place

Mike Gold explores the reasons people emigrate and the history of New England and New York.
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on the Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepeneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Where did we all come from? I don’t mean where do babies come from, I mean what are our origins? Some of us can trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower or to Christopher Columbus. Some weren’t born here. Yet it seems that millions of people want to come here, illegally or legally. To them, it does not matter, just getting here is what counts.

I have my own viewpoint as to why. Our founding fathers were brilliant at understanding what worked in a free and open society and what didn’t. They knew that monarchies simply were wrong for this “experiment” called the United States.

There were some who wanted the first leader of the country (as it seceded from Great Britain) to be King. George Washington knew better. He insisted on an elected republic – where the “top guy” was simply “President.” If Washington had been King, today our President would probably be white, a Washington descendant, and no doubt a dullard. When you water down generation after generation, the gene pool does tend to “thin out.” He might even mispronounce or misspell potato as potatoe – imagine a leader of this country being that stupid!

Let’s go back a little farther. Did you know that some of the Pilgrims did not come here directly from England? Yes, they emigrated from England due to religious persecution. But first they tried living in The Netherlands, places called Leiden, and Breukelen. If you think the name Breukelen looks something like Brooklyn where I grew up, you’d be correct. It turns out that about half of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620 came from the failed colony in Leiden.

When the Dutch started settling New York in about 1614 (then called New Amsterdam – as the Dutch were here before the English), they decided to name part of their new home Brooklyn. I guess they just couldn’t (or didn’t want to) take the time to write Breukelen.

You know the Dutch who colonized New Amsterdam couldn’t possibly have been the same group of people who developed the actual Netherlands. The Dutch (from Holland) are amongst the world’s elite “traders.” I did business with a Dutch company called Bührmann-Tetterode, which is an almost 400-year-old Dutch trading company. They were plying the world’s oceans long before the rest of Western Europe even thought of finding new lands to conquer.

The reason I state this is, how good a trader could you possibly have been to cede the island of (what would later become) Manhattan to the English either for some nutmeg (one report) or because a few English warships sailed into New Amsterdam harbor? How hard could it have been to sabotage this effort? These were old rotting wooden ships. England refused to use its “best” flotilla – instead used the “back up” equipment. Just swim out at night and poke a couple of holes in each ship just below the water line. Poof, no more “invasion force.”

So, one way or another, New Yorkers now speak English, not Dutch (or worse, German). Although if Anthony Weiner had been elected mayor of New York – they would all now be legally required to speak Esperanto – or maybe worse, Bananarama.

Why is everyone still so excited at the prospect of coming here?

My opinion is that the very nature of our society is based upon “malcontentism.” The people who fled the monarchies of Europe wanted simply to be free. They were the rabble-rousers of that society. No one wanted them. So the Europeans and the British encouraged them leaving for a “better place.” These miscreants didn’t want to be subservient to anyone, let alone a King 3,000 miles away.

I like to quote Groucho Marx who said, “I’d never want to be a member of any group that would have me as a member.” In other words a classic “loner.”

Now at the opposite end of this spectrum is Carl Sagan, noted astronomer, who wrote a great book called Contact. In it, he writes about a human who is transported by a space travel machine whose blueprints were sent to earth by aliens. We humans build it then one person is chosen to travel to meet our destiny.

The person arrives several galaxies away (I’ll deal with space travel in my next column) and meets a representative alien. This alien tries to answer the obvious question, “Why are we here?”

His answer, “We are alone.  For millions of years
we've searched the cosmos... and after all the suffering, after all the chaos and desolation of the void -- the one thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each 
other.”

You know what? I vote for the alien’s viewpoint over Groucho’s.

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