Patty Luzzi | The colorful patchwork of America

I come from a patchwork neighborhood, in a patchwork town. Oh, sure, Butte, Montana had a reputation, verified by history, as a very rough and tumble place.

But as tough as Butte was, its inhabitants were united by dangerous, hard work, and a desire to make America their new home. I looked up an early census, and found the Murphy family where my father was listed as a two-year old male. The country of birth was listed for each person, and the languages spoken at home were as diverse as the world itself.

I used to think that when our town was called “Butte, America” it was some kind of Red-White-and-Blue declaration of overblown pride. But in fact, it was called “Butte, America” on the letters from many of those who were left behind in Ireland, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, France, Finland, Germany, Mexico, and scores of other countries. Anyone could find work in Butte. It was a little microcosm of the world.

At home we talked a lot about ethnic heritage, but any kind of derogatory remark was strictly forbidden, and would have guaranteed a close encounter with the back of a parental hand. Intolerance was not tolerated. I was in my twenties before I ever heard the “n” word used in conversation, and that was in Missouri.

The only time that my mother took offense was when she had to spell “Murphy” for Teddy Traparish, an Austrian transplant who owned the Rocky Mountain Café. She was indignant, because she expected that he would have learned how to spell such a common Butte name.

During my sophomore year at Butte High School, the student body president was a senior named Rachel. She was very popular, and she was black. The next year, the student body president was a Mormon guy. When I was a senior, a Jewish guy named Earl Canty was the president. We talked a lot about our faith and nationalities. My close friends were English, Chinese, Scandanavian, Serbian, Irish, Italian, German, and all fully American. I now recognize that some were relatively well-off, but many lived in poverty. It didn’t matter when it came to friendships.

So when I heard Barack Obama say that our patchwork heritage is our strength, I understand. But I have to say that there is something about this election that has really shaken me.

Is it the race, upbringing or political party of our new president? No. What has shaken me is that for the first time, the president is younger than I am, by almost 10 years.

I guess my little patch has been around for a while. It’s good to see newer, colorful cloth taking their place in the tapestry of America.