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Playing it forward

Posted by on February 7, 2017


immigrantsMy parents were immigrants. They landed on Ellis Island without an invitation.
Everyone lived together in a boarding house in Detroit. After my folks met and married, we all moved together, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, to the same building in West LA., where I spent my first five years.
I slept in the bathtub and liked it. I didn’t know anyone that was not Irish or Catholic until I was in high school…no one Jewish until I was an adult. I was the first in my family to be drafted, to serve in the US military. Along with my cousins, Terry and Brian, we were the first of our family ever to attend college. If anyone asked my nationality, I would have readily said “Irish”. A Notre Dame loss was cause for mourning in our house in the days when the Irish of LA would pack the Coliseum to watch Notre Dame play USC in the same spirit that Mexican-Americans flock to the same place to watch Chivas / Galaxy play. Yet, I was pleased to be an American. My entire family felt lucky to be here, especially for the opportunity this country gave the next generation. No one shut us out of the schools. (Of course this is 50 years after the No Irish Need Apply signs) We embraced our opportunities.
I am not writing this to say my life was hard. It wasn’t. I was blessed by a caring family and a good upbringing. Yet, these experiences led me to feel compassion for all of the current “aliens” in our midst. I see, for the most part, hard working, honest, family oriented people. Especially in California, I see men and women striving to be North Americans (They are already Americans, thank you) while they are Mexican by culture.
I was moved to march in LA on Cinco de Mayo one recent year. While I later read that some were bothered at the many Mexican flags…though there were as many stars and stripes…I understood them as a cultural symbol, rather than a nationalistic one. It takes some time to acculturate. Though my kids have Irish blood in their veins, they do not cheer for the Celtics or feel compelled to wear green in March.
What I am saying is that it takes a generation or two. The average child now born in California is Latino…and the electorate would be advised to remember the same goes for the average eligible CA voter….at last a generation who can correctly pronounce most of the cities on the state.
It is important to remember that most of our parents and grandparents immigrated and here were called names, judged as lazy or ignorant, or collectively inferior, yet persevered to give us these blessed lives. We owe them. It seems to be the best way to repay the gift we have been given is to give today’s immigrants the open doors that were not always there for our grandparents, fathers and mothers. We have an obligation to them to “play it forward.”

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