Letter to the Editor: The President could learn from my grandfather

Saturday, January 20, 2018

To the Editor:

On a January day in 1921, my grandfather left his home in Italy for the last time. It was time to escape poverty, put behind him the world war that nearly cost him his life, and take a chance on America. He never saw his parents again.

On Ellis Island, the authorities likely saw my grandfather as just another alien with an odd name, one of millions flooding into America – Italians, Jews, Poles, Russians, Serbs, Croatians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Greeks, and more. Fleeing penury and pogroms. Speaking strange languages, worshipping in strange ways, following strange customs.

If Donald Trump were around then, he likely would have insulted the teeming newcomers with crude slurs.

Nearly a century later, Trump’s vulgar racism is an egregious example of the “otherizing” that periodically afflicts our country. Whenever there is unsettling change, the hunt is on for someone to blame. Wedge-driving, zero-sum politicians like Trump fan fears of “those people.” From Irish immigrants in the 19th century to Latin American and African immigrants today, “those people” have been stereotyped as leeches who steal jobs and don’t fit in.

My grandfather and many like him, then and now, have proved such stereotypes to be false. My grandfather mastered English, worked in a coal mine, learned a trade, and supported his family on a grocer’s income. He contributed his energy and enterprise to America.

My grandfather found a new home in a country not built on “blood and soil” notions that divide and exclude, but on the patriotic ideal that here, liberty and happiness are yours to enjoy and pursue, no matter who you are, what you look like, what you believe, or where you came from.

The president could learn a lot from people like my grandfather, if only he had eyes to see.

Jim DiPeso


Anonymous,  January 21, 2018 at 9:02 PM  

Like your grandfather, my grandmother left Europe in the early 20th century to find a new home in America, and arrived through Ellis Island. These were brave individuals seeking a better life and we are thankful for them. Worth noting is the fact that they entered the US legally through Ellis Island where they were evaluated and their documents checked. They did not sneak into the country across some unguarded border. Our grandparents followed the rules and entered the US legally. An that is the way it should be done.

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