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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Dear Editor:

I was impressed with the sincerity of Ms. Hall's letter to Immigration Daily on 5/10/02. It was eloquent.

There are people like Congressman Tancredo who would have us believe that multiculturalism, the being multicultural, is something bad.

The dictionary defines ‘multi’ as meaning more than one, and ‘culturalism’ as the having of social and artistic appreciation. So multiculturalism, the being multicultural, is having the appreciation of more than one culture, social and artistic. This is a good thing.

Mr. Tancredo faults immigrants for not abandoning all they have been taught by their parents including their native language, for not speaking English exclusively and for clinging to their culture. He said that is what his Italian immigrant grandparents did; that they never spoke Italian after they arrived in this country. How sad! How much he and his family lost! He opposes any more immigrants being admitted to our country and wants to deport all of them that are here now.

Ms. Hall's continued attachment to your country of birth, its language and its culture, is admirable and it has not interfered with her learning of English, with her securing an education that allows her to take her place in American society, and with her being a loyal American citizen.

My grandparents came to this country as immigrants several years before WWI. My grandfather, “Pepch”, left Germany with his bride on the day of their wedding, traveling by steamship in steerage, sharing space and privacy with many other poor immigrants, all with a destiny, a new unknown Promised Land. After a short work sojourn in New York City, my grandparents migrated to Columbus, Ohio where there was already a substantial German settlement. The community center of the settlement was a park named after the German poet, Johann Schiller. “Pepch” plied his trade as a shoe cobbler (a trade he learned in the German army), and raised four children. After years of saving, he managed to own three little brick German houses, living in one and renting out the other two.

With his first pay in this country, my grandfather purchased warm woolen underwear to send home to his parents and he continued to help to sustain them throughout the rest of their lives.

My grandfather spoke very little English, as he had no need for it; my grandmother spoke none. The tradesmen in their community were all Germans, the newspaper was published in German and the two churches had German services. My grandfather and his fellow immigrant countrymen did not need to speak English to be law-abiding citizens. As a child I spoke both German and English. My father died during WWI. After graduating from college, I worked for 36 years in the service of my country.

I still remember past Christmas Eves of my childhood; my grandparents would come to the house and before we would open our presents, they would sing Silent Night-Holy Night in German. We shared and loved their traditions. We loved our grandparents.

I write this because I want all to know that they were good citizens without knowing English and without forgetting their homeland, and to relate to all at least one discrimination which my grandfather suffered.

World War One came and my father cautioned my grandfather not to leave his community as prejudice against Germans abounded. (I was born at this time of WWI—yes, I am that old, the last of my family.)

At the height of the war vandals tumbled down the statue of Schiller, the poet. Someone hauled it away. My grandfather was in tears when he told us about it. He was so hurt. Then, on May 27, 1918, an added affront, the Columbus city council voted to change the name of the park from Schiller Park to Washington Park. (There were xenophobic politicians like Tancredo in those days, too.) It wasn’t until several years after my grandfather’s death that unbiased minds prevailed, and on April 7, 1930 a resolution was passed by council to restore the name of the park back to that of the poet. The statue was found sometime later where it had been discarded in a city warehouse. It was refurbished, remounted on its pedestal and rededicated. I was there for the rededication and wished so much that my grandfather could have witnessed it.

I don’t remember much of the German language but I will always remember the traditions my grandfather taught me. He was never a bitter man; it was he who taught me compassion. Through all these the years I remember my grandfather’s stories.

Later in life, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in Mexico and to become acquainted with the customs of another people. I learned a new language and found a love for yet another culture.

I have compassion for the undocumented Mexican workers who are in this country. Some have been here for almost twenty years living and working in the shadows. These people may not speak English very well. They are proud of their culture, and they observe their fiestas and venerate the Virgin of Guadalupe, their patron saint. Like my grandfather in his time, they, too, send money home to their parents and families. None of this disqualifies them from being potentially good citizens if they were given the opportunity.

Today, there is more need to know English. According to a recent survey, over 80% of immigrant children prefer English to their parent’s native tongue but converse in Spanish with their parents. Do the immigrants themselves want to learn English? I recently accompanied one of them to the Adult Learning Center to register for English as a Second Language course, because we were informed that registrations were not accepted by phone, mail or e-mail. At the Center we were told to arrive early on registration day as registration was on a “first come, first served” basis. On the appointed day doors opened at 7:45 AM; we were there at 7:00 AM. and there was already a waiting line. My companion made the cut and was registered.

When my grandfather died, he left my brothers and I the three little German houses (which still had neither indoor plumbing nor central heat). We sold them for $1,000 a piece. My thousand dollars paid my last year in college. Today, the German Village, as it is now called, is an historical landmark community and the three little houses, now renovated, have a value of close to $200,000 each.

The park is beautiful and when I visit there and Schiller gazes down on me, I remember my past and my grandfather.

Richard E. Baer, D.V.M.


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