American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
April 4, 2006
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY - FOR WHOM?
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There was something Pope John II said that came to me as I mulled over today's hot topics: citizenship, language, green cards, guest visas, and amnesty for those who have earned the right to stay based on contributions already made to American society, versus having to go back to wait on line like every other person seeking citizenship the old fashioned way - legally.
What he said was in reference to the unborn child, and he spoke during the very heated social debates when "woman's choice over her own body" was the battle cry. Abortion was legal and being used as an accepted form of birth control. The morning-after pill was being touted as a need.
Pope John Paul II wrote in his quietly elegant manner: "It's always the people already seated at the banquet who want the doors barred to newcomers."
The more I mulled the more I realized further that we did this to ourselves. Yes, we did! All the immigrants coming into America right up to the late 1940s learned the language to the best of their abilities and integrated nicely.
Today, we don't even hear the words "broken English." Instead we hear everything in two languages. We are asked to press 1 or 2 for the language we speak, whether we're placing an order or issuing a complaint. I can almost pinpoint the month it all started. It was late Summer, 1952.
The cardboard sign in the window on 57th Street in New York City said "Yo Hablo Espanol." To my mind, that was the first indication a Spanish-speaking community was growing significantly. They were working and earning and spending. That shrewd boutique owner wanted their business. Once again, greed was a stepping-stone in the journey from where we were to where we are. Soon the signs were hand-printed and gilt-edged directly on the store window.
Rarely were efforts made simply for humanitarian reasons to help "the huddled masses;" more often adaptations for newcomers were made for self-serving reasons. The great influx of Puerto Ricans making their way to New York during those years came, of course, of their desire to find the American dream; this hnadily coupled with easy access to the Great White Way and the distinct feeling of being "wanted."
Yes, they felt wanted. And why would that be? Because Puerto Ricans can vote in American elections. They can't cast their vote from San Juan, but they can vote here if they are residents of the continental United States. That's simply residents, no need to apply for citizenship. This was the beginning of my voting life and I paid attention.
Interesting, thought Congressmen in certain districts. Why don't we bring a few hundred voters up to live here? That could tip the election. Hmmm. Why not? And so, with the cooperation of airlines willing to offer reduced rates for one-way tickets from San Juan to LaGuardia Airport, the immigration was in motion and the Spanish-speaking community was born.
Our conversation at the water cooler in those years was all about our subway rides to work and the Puerto Rican women all getting off together to work in the old factories that had been closed up and then reopened for the skilled operators ready to man the sewing machines.
Enter Vito Marcantonio.
This is what I learned from an article in Commentary as I looked for verification of what I remembered:
"Marcantonio was the most electorally successful radical politician in modern American history. During his first term he proposed "reopening and operating shut-down factories by and for the benefit of the unemployed producing for use instead of profit."
Vito held the Congressional district of Harlem, East Harlem, and, finally Yorkville, bringing to his constituency the Irish and Germans to join the Italians, blacks and, finally, the Puerto Ricans.
He was beloved of all of them, but not so much by the political parties that they would put him on the ballot. He ran with the American Labor Party, where widespread rumors of Communist connections got Senator McCarthy's attention. Vito Marcantonio ;ost his popularity - unfairly, to be sure.
He needed votes. He had jobs to offer in those reopened factories, There were 200 unemployed blacks but they were not skilled workers able to sew for the garment district. Puerto Ricans were willing and able and came on the next plane, and the one after that.
No one carried a boarding pass to another city, which would have spread their large number outside the confines of New York City; no, their votes wouldn't count in the Harlem district if they left. They were "wanted" in New York. They left their beautiful tropical island to make a life for themselves in America.
"Yearning to breathe free" doesn't seem to fit when we consider their jewel of an island versus a crowded subway heading downtown.
But the American dream is filled with opportunity, that's for sure. And it's here for the taking if that's what they are after. And for all the others around the world trying to gain entrance through our golden doors: not one of us is more privileged to be here than those coming or wanting to come.
America is enhanced by new arrivals not diminished. Every immigrant arriving has a different story and each story is threaded into the fabric of our lives. And, we must learn that descending from passengers on the Mayflower is not what makes us American. Swearing allegiance to the United States of America is what does it.
Just because some people, 10 million strong for sure, have come ashore or across borders illegally is no reason to throw away the rule book. As long as we are weakened by casual attention to the imperatives of a well-ordered society, we will find ourselves trampled under the Welcome Mat.
There was talk about being able to answer the questions posed to candidates for Naturalized Citizenship in Spanish. I'm not sure of the disposition of that to date, but we should say no. Actually, it's insulting to the individual suggesting they're not smart enough to learn English.
I like the idea of our being the "melting pot" of the world. The metaphor suggests individual flavors simmering into a delicious stew, rather than a concoction stored in one tin so as never to lose its original essence.
A Special Note:: From what I've heard around St. Simons Island today, 80 Mexican workers were picked up by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) over the weekend. They were stopped in a concentrated effort to check for illegal workers. About 20 or so were found to be here legally and working. The others were sent back home.
It's time to begin mulling again. How do I feel about this? I've never seen such hard-working men in my life. They start on their roadside posts early in the morning. They mow, blow leaves, cut branches, wrap and tie debris, trim hedges … and leave our roadsides litter-free.
They have a quiet dignity. And they do the jobs no one else wants to do, all for $4.00 or $5.00 an hour. I feel badly for them. I wish they had never come; I wish they weren't forced to leave. They've been good "acting" Americans.