Dear Abby:

I recently witnessed something outside the local Kmart that left me livid. A man was speaking to a young lady in a foreign language, when all of a sudden, another man who appeared to be in his sixties began to chastise them for not speaking English. His exact words were: "What the hell is the matter with you? This is America. People speak English here!" He stormed off when I stepped in and pointed out that HIS ancestors weren't born here, and they probably didn't speak English, either.

When I ride the train to work, I see people with Middle Eastern backgrounds get dirty looks from other passengers. Where exactly is this "newfound patriotism" I keep hearing about? All I see are people using terrorism as an excuse to act like bigots.

Patriotism isn't slapping an American flag on your car. It's remembering the principles this country was built on. THAT is how you honor the people who died protecting our freedom, not by infringing on the rights of people who aren't exactly the same as you.

A Disillusioned American

What happened in front of Kmart was a textbook example of xenophobia, which Webster's defines as "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign." Unless the person who did the "chastising" was a part of the conversation, he was rude, aggressive, and a mile out of line.

With the recent war on terrorism and fear of terrorist activity from the Middle East, there have been incidents of hostility aimed at people from Middle Eastern backgrounds and those who resemble them. With that in mind, it's important to remember that no one can tell by looking what is going on in other people's hearts. It is quite likely they are American-born or naturalized citizens, and as fervently patriotic as those of us who have been here for generations.

Dear Abby:

In July of last year, my niece left her 1-month-old daughter with me, saying it would be for only a week. It is now well over a year later, and I am still taking care of her.

The baby's mother has seen her only three times in the year she's been with me. I've grown to love this little girl and think her mother's absence is unfair to her.

I have made the decision to try to gain legal custody of the child. Abby, do you think I'm wrong in doing so?

Loving Aunt in the Bronx

Not at all. The child has been abandoned in your custody. By all means, consult a lawyer as soon as possible. It will be better for the child, and for you.

Since you are acting as a parent, you should have the legal authority in case it becomes necessary.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2002, Universal Press Syndicate