2004-10-22 / Columnists

The Progressive

A Nation Of Immigrants
By John Paul Culotta


It is October and the leaves on the trees are beginning to fall. Thoughts of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are more prevalent. Each season of the year has an effect on us. I was married in October and always enjoyed this time of the year.

As an Italian-American, the pride of having Italian roots comes also into play in October. Columbus Day is now a national holiday. Although Christopher Columbus’s contributions to our shared history are being discredited by the prevalent view of many historians, the holiday is celebrated in the United States and many countries in South (Latin) America.

In the Southern Hemisphere, October 12th is celebrated as a multicultural celebration of the African, European, and the indigenous peoples contributions to the cultural, social and political life of the Americas.

In the United States it is celebrated as a day to commemorate the immigrants influence and contributions to our history.

October is dedicated as Italian-American History Month.

The Italians often say they are a nation of saints, singers, poets, and explorers. Many of the Italians who came to this country had these characteristics. Many were sinners, could not carry a tune, illiterate, and many did not venture further from the safety of their ethnic enclaves where they settled.

Italian-Americans and for that matter all Americans should learn about the immigrants’ saga and history. The hostile reception that they received, discrimination in wages and living conditions, the burden of poverty, alienation, sorrow, fear, and unsafe working conditions are a part of the history of this nation.

Many of our young people think that their woes and problems ended when they saw the Statute of Liberty in New York Harbor.

This is far from the truth. Violence was often part of the reception committee to our shores. The largest mass lynching in this country was of Sicilian-Americans in New Orleans. Scam artists and profiteers flourished by using the immigrants’ labor and ignorance. It was said by native Americans at the time of mass Italian migration to our country that the Italians depress American wages, could not or will not assimilate into the culture, and are criminals. Not only was this not true, Italian Americans are now an integral part of American society. Italian-American migration to the United States had as its roots the suffering, burdensome poverty of Southern Italy.

Also, many young men left in order to escape the wars in colonial Africa. Italians migrated to other nations in Europe, as well as Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia and other parts of the world. In some ways their flight from Italy is similar today to the flight of third-world refugees to Europe and North America. Their reception and life in this country is also similar. I think the new immigrants will assimilate and contribute. Although the Italians suffered in America, they also flourished. Italians soon learned the value of labor unions and how the United States worked. They took advantage of the opportunities this nation offers.

Modern Italy is no longer the nation of mass migration. Instead, the country faces the phenomenon of people from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Kurds and South Asians, and Chinese coming to its shores for a better life. The August 17th edition of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, wrote that the Italian Interior Minister stated that over 1,000 people lost their lives in attempts to reach Italian shores in rundown boats sent from North Africa. Recently, many lost their lives attempting to escape from the Dominican Republic by boat. Who could forget the tragedy a few years ago when Chinese smugglers were caught off the coast of Long Island? Europe and North America must deal with this issue. It is feared that international terrorist are using the trafficking of people from the third-world to the West as a toll to finance their activities. Our borders cannot afford to be porous.

In the August issue of Catholic New York, Bishop DiMarzio, chairman of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. and member of the Global commission on International Migration, was quoted as saying: ‘We need to be open to rethinking our whole immigration system based on reality. Many of the new immigrants from Muslim and South Asian countries are experiencing prolonged preventive detention which means they have no access to legal assistance or their families. During the Second World War our government detained many innocent Japanese, Italian, and German immigrants. Many of these detainees were innocent. Some were citizens. In August 1998, President Reagan signed a reparations law that awarded $1.65 billion to ethNic Japanese who were detained. Lisa Scottoline, the mystery novelist, wrote a novel “Killer Smile” which uses the internment of Italian-Americans during the Second War World as the background. In 2000 President Clinton signed a document that acknowledged that the civil rights of Italian-Americans were violated during the conflict.

It is true that our economy needs the immigrant population but their entry needs to be controlled and humane. It is of paramount importance because the new immigrant accepts work no longer desired by Americans or has skills the nation’s corporations need.. Many non-citizens serve in our armed forces. It is critical that this nation balance security and fair treatment of immigrants.

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