Immigrant makes good. That’s the dream every pilgrim held as they sailed to these shores and it came true for some — not all. If your eye or skin color didn’t match the Mayflower brand, you had a tougher time and some were often stuck in time; the wrong time. The dreams of today’s immigrants are no different. Armed with culture, appearance and beliefs dramatically different than ours, that big open door often gets stuck. Many Hispanics, Muslims, and Vietnamese find themselves outside looking in, a ‘no vacancy’ sign neatly posted. Many achieve US citizenship but will always seem less than equal to natural born Americans. Most ironic is that many of those ‘less thans’ have fought and died for the country they’ll never achieve ‘same’ status in.
“The McNichols, the Posalskis, the Smiths, Zerillis, too
The Blacks, Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews
Come across the water a thousand miles from home
With nothin’ in their bellies but the fire down below
They died building the railroads worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago they’re still dyin now
The hands that built the country were always trying to keep down” Bruce Springsteen
Nearly 40 million American neighbors, co-workers are foreign born. Unfortunately, many of us didn’t get that memo. Watching the Charlottesville, VA protests, the often hidden underbelly of American prejudice raised an ugly head. It was hard not to be ashamed and indignant hearing the hateful rhetoric and bizarre beliefs. We are all people whose ancestors escaped caste systems, brutal prejudice, and pillaging to come here. We don’t get to vanquish others and still pretend to be the good guys. Newsflash, people – there is no making America ‘white’ again; it never was in the first place. So those Neo-Nazi flags, the KuKluxKlan torches? Um, no, not in MY America.
I have blonde (helped a little) hair and blue/green eyes. Didn’t put in the order for it, especially as an Italian American, I just came that way. But what if I didn’t? Anyone who’s struggled to pick a paint color for their living room, knows there are dizzying shades of white. We mix different genres of design style and call it ‘eclectic’ and our blended cuisines become chic ‘fusion’. Yet, we somehow can’t find the coolness in the people variety.
When I was in grammar school, one of the sweetest girls I’ve ever known arrived from Argentina. My town was so white bread, so generational in its population, that her pierced ears alone made her exotic if not suspect. Her parents’ warmth and love each time I visited their apartment made me feel more welcome and understood than I sometimes did in my own home. More than 60 years later (gulp) I still treasure my beautiful Argentine friend, partner in crime at our all-girls high school, bridesmaid in my (first) wedding, and still one of my dearest friends. When my youngest daughter was small, her lifetime friend came from Japan. That little girl learned English with the help of my daughter and her best bud (son of my best bud) who patiently pointed out trees, clouds, and other sights each day in car pool. Now both young moms, they still hold each other in heart, separated only by ocean. Hey, how else would my daughter have discovered those Japanese donuts with potato filling she loves? (I’ll still pass, thank you)