“Bring us your foreign songs…”
Dateline: B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, Russellvillle, Arkansas
I am, the grandson, of cattle.
I still have the taste of freedom, on my lips.
I am, 2nd generation, here.
Born in America, me, but my family had to knock on the door to get in. On my grandparent’s wall there hung 3 framed pictures, one of Jesus, one of the Pope, and one cut out of the pages of LOOK Magazine…a photograph of the Statue of Liberty.
Tread very softly around me when you speak of immigration.
I am an immigrant’s, grandson. Ellis Island to me, is sacred ground. To this day I remember sitting as a very, very young child on the lap of my grandfather, Sylvester Barone, born in Italy, but now a citizen of America sitting in Buffalo, NY, who would tell me over and over again about, “Liberta.”
Grandpa talked of his faint memory as a child right off the boat from Italy of standing in long lines like “bestiame.”
And he would wipe the tears from his eyes, crying not of standing in the lines, but to what those lines lead to,
I write that now, with tears in my eyes, because I know those lines also lead to the love of my life, my wife, lead to the loves of my life, my children, and will someday lead to the children of my children and their children as well.
I am proud to be the grandson, of cattle.
Back at my house hung up on the living room wall are the framed actual immigration papers of my grandparents. I hung them not so much for me, but for my children, and when they have children, their children, to see.
The papers are framed in museum archival frames and mats, because I want those papers to last long past me so that all the descendants of me know this, my ancestors, their ancestors, CHOOSE to be here, in America.
Choose to go through all they did, for us.
And in doing so, gave us the greatest gift imaginable,
“…and we will sing along…”
On this planet there is one melting pot, and it is us. Like that, or not. No one is banging the doors down trying to get into Russia, China, or all the other countries that yell at us.
To me, the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship is the melting pot of this sport. We have here competitors, anglers from, Italy, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, Japan, Zimbabwe and Canada.
Next year, Australia and the African country of Namibia will be the newest members of the B.A.S.S. Nation melting pot.
The B.A.S.S Nation is on 6 of the 7 continents of this planet.
I don’t know for sure, but I hope that you and I, have pretty much the same ideals, not talking politics here or the AFC vs NFC, Blonde or Brunette, half filled, half empty.
Talking simply ideals…our core values.
And for me those core values are family, faith, freedom.
Again, I’m not talking politics here because frankly I don’t have much faith in ANY of the political parties, but as of late I have lost a bunch of enthusiasm for our elected officials over there in that D.C…..ah…thing.
So in the backdrop of furloughs, filibusters and fibs, I thought it important to speak kindly of one of our core values, case some of us seem to forget that there thing our founding father’s quilled together.
Also thought it important that all of us standing inside of America who may seem to think the whole shebang is falling apart, for you, for me, to hear from those standing on the outside of this land and looking in.
So I sat down with several of the foreign anglers in this here our melting pot, and I asked them only ONE question, and then sat back and listened to what they had to say.
Here’s my question: “Tell me, about America.”
And here’s what they said.
“…give us your tired and weak…”
Alessandro Debbi, 42, from Casalgrande, Italy, a city of about 16,000 people in the northern part of Italy near Bologna about 5 hours from Rome. In Italy Alessandro like to play soccer and fish but, “travels whenever I have the opportunity.”
Alessandro seems to take the opportunity to travel to America a lot saying that, “I have fished over a 100 different lakes in many many states here.”
“Alessandro, dude, tell me this, tell me, about America.”
“Ah db, America she the best country where to live.”
I write that down, but say nothing, there is no way I want to ask a question that may lead them in a different direction then they may be thinking, I want them to answer the question honestly, not to answer it to somehow try and please me.
Alessandro is just looking at me waiting for the next question, after a couple of beats he realizes it is the only question he is going to get.
“Here you have the possibility to realize your dream if you trust in yourself…”
I’m thinking as I write that down, I hope so my friend, I really do hope that is so.
“…here, you can achieve so quickly.”
Achieve so quickly.
Never saw that coming.
But for a man who comes from a country that is at least a couple of thousand years old…to him…1776 is just a blink of the eye.
Alessandro clearly loves his homeland, he invited me to come over and see his town, visit the beautiful city of Florence, and “I’ll take you fishing my favorite lake, it’s inside a volcano, you know inside, you have the volcano walls all around you.”
As the interview ended I thanked him, got up and put my pen and notebook away, and started to leave until he grabbed my arm and said, “But America, you have wonderful, wonderful lakes and rivers, the more and more you have the better you can be as an angler.”
I know my friend because I remember standing on a small beach south of Buffalo as a very young child, and holding onto my grandfather’s hand as he looked out over one of the greatest lakes, Lake Erie and to this day I hear him saying in Italian, “Bella, Bella.”
And every time I’m in Buffalo and drive over the Skyway to the “Southtowns” I look out over to the water of Erie and smile because in my mind all I see is,
“…and we will make them strong…”
His family boasts five generations of doctors, can trace healing all the way back to the 1800’s.
To me, he is my good friend, Haaby.
To Spain, he is Xavier Gonzales-Mestre M.D. H.S.D.
To B.A.S.S., he is the President of the Spain Nation.
I am pretty much an adopted member of the Spain team as evidenced by this jersey that Haaby presented me with here at the Nation Championship.
Haaby though has given me much more than cloth. He has given me the stories of his family, the story and worry of his daughter Victoria, who had a bad accident for which Haaby stayed home from the recent Nation Eastern Regional Tournament to care for her.
When he sent an email explaining what happened and how he wouldn’t be with us, the Nation responded back with prayers and love, to a injured daughter we had never met.
From Victoria, who is doing fine now came this email:
“I knew it. My dad always told us that Bass people was a great family. People that don' killed their catch was good people, and if you meet a bass fisherman there was a friend.
My dad ( as always) was right, and I heard from my "aunts" and "uncles" those warms and encouraging words and prayers that lifted my mood.
Thanks,and thanks,...and thanks!! Now I know: in BASS "I will never walk alone"
“So Haaby my friend tell me this, Tell me, about America.”
We are sitting together as Haaby eats a quick breakfast, he takes a bite of the blueberry muffin, sips his coffee and, “America is a big country but it is the people of it that I value.”
People who will pray for a young lady they have never met, in a land they have never been to.
“I have told my wife that if I ever get, how you say, lost, that if I ever get lost, look to find me in America.”
Haaby lives with his wife, also named Victoria, in Barcelona, “We are all you know, stuck together there, we have 1.6 million people in 90 square kilometers.”
Here’s the stab I can do at comparing their measuring stick to ours. For as best as I can figure that translates into about 34 square miles with almost 41,000 folks per square.
NYC has about 28,000 folks per square.
“db, people here are friendly, ready to help, they are not only proud to be American, but they are proud of America as well. Not so much the people of Europe.”
The biggest gift Haaby has ever given me is not the jersey, but the gift of finding joy, in life, and with Haaby, in how he looked at the death of his brother, Pablo.
“My sweet brother he died of a heart attack…”
“…I’m so sorry Haaby….”
“…no wait db…wait he died of heart attack while dancing with his wife at a wedding.”
And then he just sat there smiling at me.
Many times there is a language barrier between the two of us, not this time though.
This time as he sat there smiling I knew exactly what he was telling me,
we all should be lucky enough,
to leave this earth,
while dancing in the arms,
of a loved one.
No translation needed.
“…there's still a lot of love…”
But it was the youngest competitor, 16 year old Juan Ro Chagollan Jr who nailed what Amercia is, to me.
“Juan, tell me, about America.”
“Okay, you, you give opportunity to make dreams.”
I have to focus on the paper in front of me and not look at the kid because if I do I’m afraid I may start crying.
This child has somehow just channeled my Grandfather who would tell me the same thing almost word for word.
Let me tell you why that one sentence went through me like a lightening strike. I am a long haired-used-to-be-real-fat-sometimes-smelly-old-hippy who has spent over 30 years making a very good living writing.
Not curing anyone, not saving anyone, not teaching anyone, not building anything…just putting words on paper.
And if you look like I do, and if you act like I do, and you get to be able to provide for your family for three decades doing something you love to…and if you don’t think that’s not the American Dream you can kiss the back end of my cargo pants.
In any other country, I would be cleaning the monkey house, not writing about those in it with me.
Juan: “You can live out what you like here, you can make yourself here.”
Juan: “You have so many freedoms.”
Juan: “You are pretty safe here.”
Juan: “You have the chance to be more complete here.”
All that from a junior high school kid looking into us from his home in Guardalajara, Mexico…took him and his dad two days of straight driving to even get to this event.
Juan tells me, he loves watching Comedy Central, playing tennis and soccer, “Music, ROCK…love The Killers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
Then once again, he sends a bolt through my heart, probably all of our hearts, “Great opportunity you have here, this sort of stuff, all the world should have.”
“…living in the promiseland…”
We only hear of those who hate us.
We only hear of everything that is wrong.
Yet we walk on the same soil that held Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Dreamers all.
All we do is shout, anymore. Unfortunately the First Amendment mentions nothing about volume, or intelligence.
If we can only pledge our allegiance in private, how does that foster our allegiance to any of the folks here with us.
If we are not one nation under God, who in fact is it that we live under.
I wanted to leave you with this story, it is pretty much the last story I will do this year…one more coming up…Thanksgiving with Elite Angler John Crews and his family in Virginia.
But I wanted these words to be the words that will hang out there for awhile. If you take away anything from any of the stories I do, please consider taking this, I believe in the American Dream.
I believe in Americans.
And I believe in you who have the soul of America in your hearts, no mater where your feet are standing.
I believe in freedom, and I hope you do too, and I hope you still believe it to be here in America.
The sport of Bass Fishing has spread now to 6 of the 7 continents on this planet,
and as it spreads I hope it brings with it the dream,
that some call the American Dream,
but what I think is really the Universal Dream,
to be who you are,
where you are.
“…the prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels.”
Living in the Promise Land