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The House I Live In

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

Earlier this month I wrote about ill will in several parts of the country toward planned construction of mosques. I had not figured on writing anything more related to this subject until I heard a recording of Frank Sinatra singing “The House I Live In” while driving to work.

What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see?
A certain word, “democracy”?
What is America to me?

“The House I Live In” is a departure from the better-known swinging tunes and torch song repertoire of the crooner sometimes referred to as the “The Voice.” The song was the centerpiece of a 10-minute, black-and-white film of the same name released in 1945 to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the aftermath of World War II. Here Sinatra teaches a group of boys a lesson in religious tolerance. The lyrics were penned by Abel Meeropol, under the pen name Lewis Allen. (The name Meeropol became better known when he adopted Michael and Robert, the sons orphaned by the 1953 executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted on espionage-related charges involving atomic bomb secrets.) The music was written by Earl Robinson, who later was ‘blacklisted’ during the anti-Communist fever of the early 1950s.

The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher, and the people that I meet
The children in the playground, the faces that I see
All races and religions, that’s America to me

“All races and religions.” Since the song was written, laws have been implemented to prevent discrimination based on skin color when buying or renting a house, being served in a restaurant or voting. In that time, the loyalty to his country of a Catholic running for President was questioned publicly, churches and synagogues were burned and bombed and – now – a growing and geographically expanding Muslim community confronts opposition and often hostility in creating places to worship.

The place I work in, the worker by my side
The little town or city where my people lived and died
The “howdy” and the handshake, the air of feeling free
And the right to speak my mind out, that’s America to me

America in 2010 is different in many ways from that of 1945; more urban, more diverse racially, ethnically and religiously. By mid-21st century, we are told, there no longer will be any racial majority group.

The things I see about me, the big things and the small
The little corner newsstand and the house a mile tall
The wedding in the churchyard, the laughter and the tears
The dream that’s been a-growin’ for a hundred and fifty years

As I was writing this, I came across reports of an Islamic community center recently opened in the Santaluz area of San Diego, California. I may have missed something but I did not find reports of court fights or rallies opposing the facility. Before the ribbon cutting, Anita Tallman, spokesman for the Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego said, “The focus of our center is on being American Muslims as most of our members are either born and raised in the United States or have spent the majority of their lives in this country.”

The town I live in, the street, the house, the room
The pavement of the city, or a garden all in bloom
The church, the school, the clubhouse, the millions lights I see
But especially the people
That’s America to me

There was a second verse to the song, not included in the film, part of which made mention of:

The house I live in,
My neighbors white and black,
The people who just came here,
Or from generations back
. . .
That’s America to me

Considering the divisions in America that persist today over such issues as race, religion, ethnicity and immigration, “The House I Live In” seems no less relevant today than when it was written.


August 14, 2010 - Posted by | entertainment, music |

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