I’m going to offer occasional glimpses at the wonderful collection of Justice Scalia’s speeches in Scalia Speaks. With Columbus Day just around the corner, I figured that I’d highlight the opening speech in the collection: Justice Scalia’s speech to the National Italian American Foundation in October 1986—just one month after he became the first Italian-American Supreme Court justice. In that speech, which we’ve put under the heading “What Makes an American,” the Justice reflects on “why we are proud of our Italian heritage—and about why that pride makes us no less than 100 percent Americans.”
Scalia praises 19th-century Italian immigrants for their “capacity for hard work,” “love of family,” “love of the church,” and “love of the simple physical pleasures of human existence: good music, good food, and good—or even pretty good—wine.” He continues:
We have shared those qualities with our fellow Americans— as they have shared the particular strengths of their heritages with us. And the product is the diverse and yet strangely cohesive society called America. It is a remarkable but I think demonstrable phenomenon that our attachment to and affection for our particular heritage does not drive our society apart, but helps to bind it together. Like an intricate tapestry, the fabric of our society is made up of many different threads that run in different directions, but all meet one another to form the whole.…
While taking pride in what we have brought to America, we should not fail to be grateful for what America has given to us. It has given us, first and foremost, a toleration of how different we were when we first came to these shores. What makes an American, it has told us, is not the name or the blood or even the place of birth, but the belief in the principles of freedom and equality that this country stands for.
There’s much more in this short but beautiful speech—and a lot, lot more in Scalia Speaks.