Monday, May 01, 2006

I wouldn't be here if not for immigration

Immigration took center stage today as people all over the country, including here in Boston, took to the streets to protest immigration-related issues. I am a first/second generation American (a 1.5?). I put it that way because my dad was born here, while my mom was born right after the war in what is now the Czech Republic (her parents were from present-day Slovakia). Her parents and sister survived the Holocaust and then moved to the U.S. with their two young daughters. My grandfather often spoke proudly of being up on deck, holding my mom (who was maybe a year old), watching the State of Liberty come into view as the boat pulled into NY Harbor. My grandparents knew several languages-Czech, German, Hungarian, Yiddish and a little bit of Russian. They moved to southern NJ, in a community made up mostly of Eastern European refugees like themselves, where my grandfather's sister (his only relative not killed in the war) lived. They became citizens, learned English, sent their two daughters to college, and after many years of hard work, retired to the NY suburbs (about a mile or two from where I grew up). They assimilated, without giving up their Judaism, their Eastern European foods, or their beloved language of Yiddish. My dad's family came through Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century, also hailing from Eastern Europe. If it weren't for immigration (and the brave soldiers who fought in WWII), I wouldn't be here.

Roommate (who teaches at an inner-city school north of Boston) was telling me about how his students who are immigrants have filed the appropriate papers to become full and legal citizens. They have taken ESL classes and, in some cases, speak better English than some of the students who are 'native' speakers. I admire people like that. I have no problem with immigration, but I get frustrated when I hear about immigrants to this country, legal or otherwise, who don't make that effort to learn English. It's frustrating for all involved, no matter what their native tongue might be. If I went on a vacation to another country, say France, I'd make the effort to learn some key phrases in that language spoken there.

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