THE GRAND Statue of Liberty celebration scheduled for the Fourth of July in New York will be a tribute to this country's immigrant heritage and, perhaps even more, to its fondness for sweaty, overcrowded extravaganzas. The yachts will be packed like sardines in the harbor for the fireworks, and the city government has warned penthouse owners on Manhattan's teeming shores not to load their terraces beyond the legal limits with partying spectators. On July 5 there will be plenty of wretched refuse to pick up.
Meanwhile, in Arlington over the past weekend, there was held what some might consider a fresher and more spontaneous celebration of the immigrant spirit. One-hundred and sixteen Washington area schoolchildren from Vietnamese families were honored in a ceremony at Kenmore Intermediate School in an assembly sponsored by members of the Vietnamese community.
"The story of the Vietnamese in America -- especially in the American school system -- is one of success," Education Secretary William J. Bennett told the assembled Vietnamese parents. But, as he noted, it's a success from which not just the Vietnamese benefit. "You have been here 10 short years and have accomplished much," he said. "By showing that perseverance, more than any possession, leads to success, you have reminded us of some of our own values."
Actually, not all have been here for the full 10 years since the end of the Vietnam war. One of those honored Saturday was a sixth-grader named Nguyen Soc, who fled Vietnam by boat just two years ago; he had all A's and B's on his latest report card. "It's good here," he said, "because the schools are good and the people are kind."
But it can be a trying job teaching children who come here unable to speak the language of their fellow students, who might have been uprooted from their homes under the most terrifying circumstances and who must now make the adjustment to a new culture. That's why it was good that the Vietnamese parents were also honored, along with the children, 60 teachers and school administrators who have been especially helpful to immigrant students. "We would like to express our deepest gratitude for all you have done for our children," said Nguyen Ngoc Lieu, chairman of the Saturday event. Sometimes such words speak louder than fireworks.