Monday, July 14, 2014

On Immigration...

Do you recognize this poem?  A portion of it is printed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  The statue was given to the United States of America in 1886 as a gift of friendship from the people of France.  

The New Colossus


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

How have we gone from this ideal to the suspicious, unwelcoming country we have become?  How can we, a country of immigrants, the great melting pot, refuse to let the "tired, poor, huddled masses, the homeless, tempest-tost" try to make a life for themselves in "our" America?  

I am a third-generation American.  My great-grandparents came from Poland in the early 1900s.  I never met my great-grandfather, because he died before I was born.  But I remember my great-grandmother.  As far as we can tell, she came here around 1908, and she died in 1982.  Do you know that she never really learned to speak English?  My grandfather, the oldest son, was born here, but didn't learn English until he went to school.  

I really don't know why my ancestors chose to come here.  I do know that at that time Poland was not its own nation, but was split up between Prussia (Germany), Russia, and Austria.  My great-grandfather came on a boat from Russia, so I assume that he, at least, lived in that part of Poland.  It seems that he came directly after the Revolution of 1905, so that could have had something to do with his decision.  

What I do know is that the Polish Americans of that day were similar to the Hispanic Americans now.  They tended to live in communities, and to have their own churches and schools whenever possible, where Polish was spoken.  They were also looked down upon, thought to be less intelligent than other people, and were paid less for the same factory jobs.  

I was talking to a couple of friends the other day, one of whom is on vacation in France.  It was mentioned that the shopkeepers in France don't like to deal with you if you don't speak French.  Is that any different from here?  How many times have I heard people say that if you live in America, you should speak English?  As I said before, my great-grandmother never learned to speak English, though she lived here for over  70 years.  (We got along well, because we both knew the word "cookie!")  She was a housewife, and lived in a community with other Polish people, so she got along without.  It would have been hard for her to find time to take care of the farm and her children and take English lessons on the side!

I live in a town which has a pretty large Hispanic population, many of them immigrants.  There are also quite a few Chinese people.  While the children learn English in school, similar to my grandfather, and the men learn English at work, similar to my great-grandfather, it must be hard for the women to learn.  I see mothers with small children walking down the street.  I'm a mother with small children, and I have very little time to do anything outside the home without them.  Of course there are ESL (English as a Second Language) classes available for free, but how difficult must it be for these women to find the time to go!  

We need to think about this immigration deal.  Of course we don't want to invite terrorists and drug dealers into our land, but seriously, how many of the people trying to come from Mexico and Central America are really in this category?  Most of them are trying to make a better life for themselves, just like my great-grandparents did.

It is hard to spot Polish Americans at this point, unless they've retained a name with a "ski" on the end.  Some of those undesirables may be your next door neighbor, your kids' school teacher, your doctor or your lawyer.  We have become a part of the melting pot.  Let's think about what our immigration policies will look like to the America that is coming in the next few generations.  

America has always been the "Mother of Exiles."  Where is her "World-wide welcome?"


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