Our view: We’re seeing America at its finest
For those outside its path, the most enduring memories of Hurricane Harvey could be the images of America as most Americans like to think of it: A black deputy sheriff wading through floodwaters with a white child in each arm; a white SWAT officer, also wading through floodwaters, carrying a Vietnamese American cradling her sleeping baby; three Asian and Hispanic constables, knee-deep in water, carrying an elderly woman in a wheelchair.
Our national narrative, the origin story that is our permanent legacy, is our diversity.
This is a gift we too often either take for granted or lose sight of in heated arguments over what to do about immigration or Confederate statues. Yet it is alive and well in Houston and, one hopes, across America.
One Harvey photo after another shows rescue teams made up of black, white, Hispanic and Asian responders, helping people of all races. Pets and livestock, too. The rescuers are doing what is urgent in the moment and no doubt think nothing of it. Yet these images very much belie the harsh, divisive politics that Donald Trump rode to the White House and now practices from the Oval Office. Seeing them is a much needed reminder: This is who we are.
Adversity has a way of bringing people together. In 2005, 15 days after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, a photographer following a search and rescue team from Orange County, Calif., took a shot of three team members — two white people and, in the center of the iconic tableau, a burly Hispanic former Navy medic — gently carrying an emaciated black man from a home that two earlier teams had marked empty.
Some who helped that day saw the scene as a metaphor for government failures. But Richard Ventura, logistics manager of the rescue team, looked at it and saw racial harmony.
The imperatives of disaster response are not dissimilar to the imperatives of battle, and they bring to mind what Defense Secretary James Mattis told a group of U.S. troops in a video posted on Facebook last week, after the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va., and President Trump’s disturbing responses.
“You’re a great example for our country right now. It’s got some problems. You know it, and I know it,” Mattis said. “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other, and showing it and being friendly to one another.” He added that America has two powers: intimidation, “that’s you,” and inspiration, “and we’ll get the power of inspiration back.”
He also reminded them that “we’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”
Yes. We are.