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

Dear Editor:

Dr. Baer wrote an extremely eloquent letter yesterday, one which I have downloaded for future reference. I, too, am the child of immigrants, or, more correctly, the great grandchild of immigrants. My great grandmother and her husband arrived in this country before the turn of the last century, traveling to the East Coast of the United States from a small town in Southern Italy. On the voyage to this country, my great grandmother's 6 year old child Antonietta became ill, and died before she reached these shores. Despite their grief, Lucia and Luigi realized that the only tribute possible to this lost child, would be to follow their dream, establish roots in this 'adopted country', and keep her memory alive in the children they would later have.

In much the same way, they inculcated in their sons and daughters, all American citizens, a love for the United States, a country which brought them very little sorrow and a great deal of joy and prosperity. Nonetheless, they made sure that their children, including my own grandfather, spoke the language of Dante Alighieri, as well as their own regional dialect, in the hopes that the memory of Italy, like the memory of Antonietta, did not die.

Unfortunately, my grandfather's generation came of age during the war years, and during World War II, it was not a wise thing to display your love for anything Italian. Italy was the enemy, as were Japan and Germany, and my grandfather thought it wiser to make sure his own children were 100%, patriotic citizens. This meant placing less emphasis on ethnic tradition, and more on assimilation. For this reason, my own mother does not speak Italian, although she understands it well. My mother's parents were extremely proud of their family history, but felt intimidated into minimizing their roots because of the (perhaps understandable) anti-immigrant feeling in the United States in the late thirties and early forties.

Although my mother considers herself an American with a capital 'A', she is also quite mindful of her roots, and raised me with an appreciation for my heritage. I grew up enjoying the fruits of her magnificent cooking, reveled in the close family ties typical of a Mediterranean family, and listened avidly to stories from the 'old country.' However, the one thing that was missing was the ability to communicate with older relatives in their native tongue, since no one in my very American household spoke a word of Italian. I (or rather, my parents) had to spend a good deal of money to send me to a college where I could learn Italian well enough to be able to converse. Today, I am fluent in Italian, but it took many years, and not a few tuition bills, before I obtained something which should have been my birthright.

And this is my point. Any attempt to elevate 'assimilation' over an appreciation of one's roots is doomed to failure, since people who are totally divorced from their ethnic beginnings are antithetical to the principles upon which this great country was based. We are who and what we are precisely because our ancestors had a tolerant vision, and a realization that a culture which culls the best aspects of other cultures is infinitely enriched.

Many of the readers of this excellent website will disagree with my position, and will find in my letter an excess of 'idealism.' I have often been told that these sentiments are the product of an overly romantic mind, which believes in a 'utopia' that cannot exist within the limits of present day society. As an immigration attorney, I have heard criticisms of immigration and immigrants on a daily basis, and the virulence of the attacks against immigration has measurably increased since September 11. How convenient for Pat Buchanan, and those of his ilk, to have such a tragic event to validate their views that we have too many of 'them' coming into the country, placing 'us' in contraposition.

Let's remember one thing. This is a global society. One dollar out of every three made in the United States is the result of foreign investment. We have grown stronger because, and not despite of, the contributions of immigrants over the past two centuries. If we close our borders, and that is what many people out there seem to want, we will place our country at a great disadvantage both economically, diplomatically and, on a more personal level, socially. The European Union has created a symbiosis between countries which heretofore operated separately, and will inevitably become an important force on the world stage in the years to come. If we decide to hermetically seal our borders, we will sink to an unprecedented level of stagnation, and will be unable to compete at an international level.

I am not saying that the borders should be opened to everyone. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it is extremely difficult to immigrate to the United States today. Section 245(i) is a smokescreen for those who oppose immigration at all levels. I simply feel that those who consider 'assimilation' to be a quasi sacrament and those who talk about the 'integrity' of the United States are foolish if they think that we have any hope for survival without a healthy, balanced level of immigration and a concomitant respect for the traditions and legacies of the foreigners who brought us to these shores.

Christine Flowers
Philadelphia, PA


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