“Be American! Buy American!” Says the Foreign-Born Mini-Mart Owner Selling Chinese Lighters, Drug Paraphernalia, and Porn
When I first saw the sign I was ready to be offended, assuming the sign was a misguided attack against completely legal, hard-working immigrants who often found employment the only place they could, at mini-marts. But the moment I walked into the store the tables suddenly turned and suggested that I was the one discriminating against someone, not them. The store was in fact owned and operated by a family who immigrated from India.
The odd thing is, even now (months after I first saw it) the sign still bugs me and I can't figure out exactly why.
Part of my frustration with the sign stems from the fact that I still don't know exactly what it means. Typically someone telling you to "Buy American" means you should buy products made by US companies at factories in the US. But this sign can't possibly mean that because the store is hardly so exclusive, they sell all your typical, cheap, Chinese-made mini-mart crap and then some. So the next likely interpretation is that it means you should buy from stores owned or operated by Americans (as opposed to buying from stores owned by foreign corporations or staffed by illegal aliens). But this also confuses me because so far as I'm aware there are no stores within 5+ miles which are not owned and operated by Americans. We're in rural Pennsylvania, the vast majority of people around here have been here since at least the civil war. In fact the nearest and most popular competitor to this mini-mart is one called Sheetz, an American owned chain, operated by a whole lot of lily-white, native speakers. So, what would be the point of a sign saying you should do something that realistically you cannot avoid doing anyway? And that's what seems to generate most of my dislike for the sign. It feels not like a sign meant to celebrate, cement, and secure the owner's adopted homeland, but like a gimmick, a cheap marketing technique intended to somehow justify their excess prices, encourage a faithful customer base, or discourage robberies by patriotic Americans. Fueling my dislike for the sign and the store is also that the store is hardly representative of an America I want encouraged. Unlike other local mini-marts, this blue-blooded American neighborhood mini-mart sells many unsavory things: drug paraphernalia and raunchy porn. Perhaps those items were made in America, but I'm not sure that's sufficient justification for selling it. (The drug paraphernalia are mesh screens (which I understand are used for smoking various drugs), a large selection of rolling papers, Swisher Sweetz (and other cigarillos that people seem to put drugs into), etc.)
Separate and apart from my dislike for the nature of the shop and my suspicion about motivation for the sign, I can't help but admit to some vague and hard to define (or defend) uneasiness with the "new kid on the block" telling us native-borns what to do. I love the USA and I love that other people love it, too. I want people to become lawful citizens, marry themselves to our culture, accept our best and our worst, and want to join in our attempt to be better united than we are apart. But were I to move abroad and become a citizen of elsewhere it would never occur to me to tell anyone there how they should be. They were there first, they know their culture far better than I do, they "get" the nation I will be forever getting. I certainly do and will defend any new or old citizen of the USA their right to share their thoughts and opinions, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Maybe that is a prejudiced position, or maybe it's just a natural position that all cultures have to encourage stability and discourage imposed change from unfamiliar or outside influences. I don't know.