This week I read a number of disparate articles and books from a variety of different sources. As so often happens, they all turned out to be interconnected. Each one provided me with perspective on the great immigration debate raging not only in the United States, but in Europe as well.
Looking for something to read online one night, I logged onto my library account and scrolled through the “available now for download” book section. With apologies to Lidia Bastianich, I had never heard of the Italian chef, but the title of her book, My American Dream, caught my eye. The book, especially the story of her childhood, did not disappoint.
Ms. Bastianich’s family lived in an area of Italy that after World War II came under the control of Yugoslavia. As Communist rule expanded her parents made the decision to abandon their comfortable life and large extended family, and become refugees. While the mother and two children, including nine-year-old Lidia, went by train ostensibly for a short visit to relatives in Italy proper, the father escaped via a dangerous, harrowing trek, evading the regime’s police.
My American Dream describes the family’s spartan and uncomfortable life in the refugee camp in Italy, the grueling process they went through to be admitted to the United States and the years of struggle to rebuild their lives in a country whose language and culture they needed to learn. Their support system was Catholic Charities, neighbors and relatives. Ms. Bastianich’s recognition of her parents’ sacrifice so that she and her brother could have a better life and her honest portrayal of how difficult their path was is honest and moving.
With some embarrassment, I must admit to knowing little of Josip Tito, or the Yugoslavia/Italy connection before reading that book. But with Italy on my mind, an article in the Wall Street Journal about Italian-born race-car driver Mario Andretti (whose name I did recognize) caught my eye. He spoke of the same time and place in history, when his family lived for seven years – seven years! – in a refugee camp in Tuscany. For four of those years they shared a room with nine families while awaiting permission to immigrate to the United States. Mr. Andretti, like Ms. Bastianich, was full of gratitude to his parents and appreciation to the country that took them in.
The third story came from the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine. It had nothing to do with immigration, but told of a recent hero, Bryan Whittle of Oklahoma City. While driving, he saw a commotion on the side of the road. Thinking that he might be able to help he pulled over and quickly realized that a gunman was shooting at restaurant patrons. Mr. Whittle pulled his own gun, shouted at the gunman to put down his weapon, and when that didn’t happen shot at the murderer, saving the lives of the fleeing customers.
When the police arrived, they initially handcuffed Mr. Whittle and another good Samaritan on the scene who also had his gun out. Obviously, as the witnesses told the story both armed citizens were quickly released and celebrated. (Funny, isn’t it, how the story didn’t make it onto the front pages of national newspapers and into headline news online – yes, I’m being sarcastic.) Mr. Whittle was appreciative for the chance to help others and completely understood that the police needed to secure the area before they could take the time to evaluate the situation and understand that he was a good guy.
This story along with those of Ms. Bastianich and Mr. Andretti, laid the background for the fourth story I read. On the surface, the article in a liberal magazine was about illegal immigration into the United States. I wouldn’t call it investigative reporting as much as propaganda. In my opinion, it was intended to engage my emotions, provoke me to despise President Trump, confirm that anyone who votes Republican is deplorable and motivate me to get to the polls in November and vote for the Democrats.
What paragraph in the story caught my eye? A young man was quoted who was seeking asylum in the United States because of fears that he would be put to death for homosexual behavior in his own country. After illegally entering this country, he made his claim for asylum. At that point he was handcuffed and separated from the other illegal immigrants to be processed differently. What was his reaction? Gratitude for reaching the United States and potentially being given a safe haven? No – it was embarrassment and upset at being handcuffed, and presumably the reader is meant to be outraged at that treatment.
Are you kidding me? I don’t think that we must make refugees, potential immigrants or asylum seekers suffer just because people did in the past. But we need to be extremely careful that crossing the border illegally or declaring oneself a refugee or asylum seeker isn’t a way to short-circuit the legal immigration process. Those are drastic measures, not ways to evade the system. Each country has a right to choose immigrants who will help, not destroy or drain it. Humility, gratitude, respect for the laws of the land and a desire to serve one’s neighbors seem to be valid basic requirements to increase the chances having more successful immigration stories and heroes like Bryan Whittle among us.
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