Reader Bob Enos sent us his thoughts after reading Ms. Wolfe’s paean (in Foreign Policy) to grandpa (in which the author takes the opportunity to, like all good Leftists, use hot button words to describe RRW). See my post here with a link to “journalist” Lauren Wolfe’s opposition to the idea of “assimilation.” (You may be able to get the Foreign Policy article the first time without registering.)
Enos tells us this:
The article penned by Ms. Lauren Wolf – a New York liberal presumably of Russian Ashkenazi Jewish extraction – for Foreign Policy magazine was yet another piece of revisionist history designed to obscure a 27 year-old change to immigration policy that the American public neither understood nor asked for.
In her fantasy depicting Russian Jewish immigrants as ethnic culturists fiercely holding on to cultural identity in contrast to the American “melting pot,” she conveniently omits the major difference between then and now: the concept of the “public charge.” Her ancestors entered the United States, as did mine, with three pre-conditions in place. One, they were represented by American citizens acting as sponsors – often a rabbi or parish priest. Two, private, unsubsidized housing had been arranged ahead of time. Three, the new immigrants had jobs arranged for them ahead of time. The concept was a simple one: entrance to the United States is a privilege, not a right. Freedom of opportunity provides the means to support oneself, to “sing for your supper,” and to pose no burden to your new home country.
The Immigration Act of 1980 abandoned the 100+ year-old standard of the public charge – at least for refugees.
This is the story of my paternal grandparents, Manuel and Maria Ignacia, from the island of St. Michael, in the remote chain of archipelago islands called the Azores, 1,000 miles off the coasts of both Europe and America in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese language was spoken in the home. My grandfather worked full-time in the Glenwood Stove factory, and part-time for a local Jewish merchant and landlord, Mr. Steinberg, who rented apartment and sold home furnishings to “green horns” fresh off the boat. My grandparents were Roman Catholic, but Mr. Steinberg’s religion meant nothing to my grandparents. “Mr. Steinberg is like a god to us!”, my grandmother exclaimed, more than once.
Once my grandparents learned the ropes from Mr. Steinberg, they began investing their savings in their own tenement houses and became landlords. During World War II, they bought a meat market, selling what my “vo-vo” (Nana) called “midnight meat” – black-market meat sold out the back door, in the middle of the night, to circumvent rationing restrictions during the war. I’d often thought that, had my grandmother been born in the US about 50 years later, she would have been running General Motors.
Now, to the assimilation part of the story. As in many Portuguese homes in the area, there were four portraits adorning the living room walls. First, a portrait of Jesus Christ. Second, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The church is at the center of family life in traditional Portuguese households. Third, a picture of Cardinal Umberto Medieros, the Archbishop of the Boston Diocese, the first Archbishop of an American Catholic diocese of Portuguese extraction. And last, a portrait of President John F. Kennedy.
One running quip was that Portuguese men preferred smoking Winston cigarettes and drinking Carling-Black Label beer, because the packaging contained the colors of the American flag.
Once, as a teenager, I asked vo-vo if she and voo-voo (grandpa) ever thought about returning home for a visit. She laughed at me; “Ai, cuzao (don’t ask)! Go where? Sao Miguel? Whadda you talkin’ about? I know what it looks like! THIS is our home!”
My grandparents never became citizens. I don’t know why. They were proud of the United States and grateful to be here. It could be that, Portugal having been ruled by a repressive military dictatorship for many years, my grandparents simply distrusted government. They never had a bank account. My grandmother accepted public assistance only once. A bureaucrat from city hall called her at home. Vo-vo was a widow by now. Vo-vo was asked if she would like 100 gallons of home heating oil for free. “Sure,” she replied. When my parents learned of this, they were mortified. They asked her, “why did you take that?” She laughed, “I didn’t ask for nothing. I didn’t call them, they called me!” Of city hall, she said they were idiots.
Both of my grandparents died in nursing homes, one at a time. They financed their nursing home stays with their own money. They came to the US with no money. They died in the US with no money. They left no money to bequeath; only mementos of sentimental value and memories. What they did leave, the really important stuff: opportunities for their progeny to thrive in the greatest land of opportunity the world has ever known.
Our family has been, and continues to be, grateful for the opportunities this wonderful social experiment called the United States has provided us. Today, my grandparents have one grandchild who is a retired Wall Street executive, one grandchild who is chief financial officer and treasurer for one of the most important technology companies in America, and a great-grandchild who graduated with honors from Yale University, and is an associate at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.
This story, my friends, is one that, sadly, is largely lost on the current crop of refugees, in my opinion.
And for those of my fellow Americans who insist that the current crop of refugees will blend in and thrive, no different than previous immigrant waves, I refer you to the caveat of every legitimate stock broker and investment advisor: “past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”
This post is filed in my Comments worth noting/guest posts category.
See another guest column by Mr. Enos about the issue of refugees and the public charge, here.
A refugee designation is the most desired form of entry to the US for wannabe immigrants because it is the only category where the immigrant is legally (there may be migrants receiving illegally) allowed to receive welfare within weeks of arrival. In fact, the major job of the resettlement contractors is to get their assigned refugees enrolled at local welfare offices ASAP.