The Namesake, Immigration, Environmentalism, Passover

04/02/2007 05:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I saw The Namesake yesterday, Mira Nair's visualization of the Jumpha Lahiri novel (and I use the word "visualization" because that's what it is), and I wished I was sitting next to Lou Dobbs.

The messy collision of cultures it depicts - and the painful but ultimately freeing reconciliation of those forces - is what works best about America. Our creativity, our yearning, our rejection of limits - all the small and large detonations of creativity and imagination that light up our sky - come from this. It's tragic that the one thing we have to teach Iraq, about successful living with dividing differences, has become the last thing they can learn from us.

The Namesake is far from a great movie, but it is about a great idea, and the idea is that immigration takes us away from where we were, but adds something more to who we are, and the society we join. It is loss well spent.

Those who rant about illegal immigration, it seems to me, do so because their real anxiety - the loss of whatever demographic equilibrium they hold dear - is so outside the American container that they dare not speak its name.

It's no surprise, by the way, that those opposed to a liberal immigration policy are usually those who are opposed to strict environmental policy. It's a mindset that doesn't see the importance in keeping the evolutionary stew alive and teeming, that sees no harm in a monoculture, that is willing to sacrifice the parts to preserve a whole that can't survive without them.

The Namesake it also turns out, was the perfect pre-Passover movie to see, even though Passover isn't about immigration into a culture, but about an exodus from an oppressive one. Passover may been responsible for the biblical Jews surviving, but the reason the Jews exist today was the disaster of the Diaspora, which forced them to fragment and schooled them on how to assimilate into cultures without abandoning their own. Without being tossed into the winds, the Jews would most likely have ended up as archeology, a diorama on a museum wall next to the Mayans.

Passover is a celebration of escape from slavery, define slavery as you will. That's one operating metaphor for America. The Diaspora is the second. See The Namesake and understand that if both of them remain very much alive, so can America.