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Immigration’s past, present and future

John Hannon

Every once in a while you read an article and when you finish you say to yourself, “yeah … so what?”

The Wednesday, Dec. 7 issue of The Denver Post contained an article based on a report released by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington a day earlier. The headline stated, “Most immigrants left jobs at home.”

What else is new!? In 1916, my father left the family horse farm in the west coast of Ireland and came to America. All living creatures on farms have jobs, as did my father. However, he did not own the farm; his older brother, Patrick, did. In Ireland, there was a law of prima genitor by which the oldest son inherited. Any subsequent sons could only hope to inherit if No. 1 died childless. How many ‘r’s in fat chance?

I think that Mexican immigrants come to the United States for the same reasons that we, or our ancestors, did. The main attraction would have to be a better life made possible by all the opportunities that are available to us. The only opportunity mentioned by Rakesh Hochhar, the Pew Center’s associate director for research, in the article was, “you can see people roughly doubling their earnings here.”

I don’t think the lure of higher wages is as important a factor as some people think. It is, rather, the same package that has been bringing immigrants to our shores since our country was founded. The package includes tolerance, education, medical care, housing, security and so many things that we take for granted that are not part of life in many countries.

Is it right that immigrants from Mexico have only the jobs available to them that most Americans won’t do? I see nothing wrong with this. The subway system in New York city was largely built by recent arrivals from Italy who had language and educational problems that were largely overcome in a generation. As their children moved away from what are now known as “hoods,” they were assimilated. Some stayed within the boundaries formed by the neighborhoods such as language, religion and a feeling of being more Italian than American. Assimilation was slower for these descendents, but it did take place.

Was there discrimination? Some readers won’t recognize the names, ‘ginny’ or ‘wopp.’ I remember hearing them when I was growing up. Italians were often called greaseballs. The point is, virtually all immigrants suffered through rejection and discrimination. This was not a good thing and it still isn’t.

Hopefully, we will find better ways in which to welcome and assimilate those who choose to move north to join us in what I mentioned earlier, a better life. Building a wall along the border, denying medical treatment, deportation and name calling are not answers.

We are, and always have been, an English speaking country. As it is necessary to be able to communicate with one another, learning to speak English should be high on any immigrant’s list. You don’t have to forget your language or national background. However, you should want to become “Americanized” and learning the language is an important step.

A simple solution would be to get together with Mexico and Canada and form a mega country. This comes under the heading of “Ain’t gonna happen.” The politicians in all the entities would be apprehensive that they would lose power.

I think we should heed what it says at the base of the lady in New York Harbor – “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-tossed to me: I lift me lamp beside the golden door.”

In a generation or two there would be no more wetbacks or greasers. It’s worked before.

Another people problem we have hasn’t been caused by immigrants, but by people who were here when, “we” arrived; the indigenous peoples we call Indians. Many of these people have never been assimilated because they have been kept in ghettos we call reservations. The reservations are sort of joint ownership estates and they just don’t seem to work too well. Forget the gambling casinos and find a way for individual ownership of the land or a reasonable compensation.

In over 200 years since the founding of our country, we have not assimilated the former owners and I think we should have done this. VT

John Hannon is an Eagle resident and a regular columnist for The Vail Trail. E-mail comments about this column to editor@vailtrail.com.


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