Days without Immigrants

Today is “Day without Immigrants” day all over the country.  In cities large and small — including here in the Twin Cities — immigrants and refugees and their supporters are staying home from work and school, and refraining from spending any money, if possible.  Others are participating in protests and rallies and demonstrations in support of immigrants and refugees and opposing the Administration’s policies — Muslim Ban, Refugee Ban, Wall.   Many businesses are showing their solidarity with and support for these communities by shutting down voluntarily.

Social media is full of the usual ugly backlash which I don’t need or want to amplify here.  But I was struck by one post I saw suggesting that because today is Day without Immigrants, “Tomorrow is ‘Can I see Your Work Papers, Please Day.'”  The poster went on to crow about how she plans to use today to gather evidence about undocumented immigrants — presumably by seeing which establishments shut down, and which employees don’t show up to work — to send to ICE tomorrow.

The ugly self-righteousness of this post turned my stomach.  I don’t know anything about the poster — it was on a public site, so I have no connection to them.  But are we really so blind that we don’t understand the role immigrants — of all status — play in our national economy and character?

Both of my parents were born in the U.S.  My father comes from a long line of “Americans” — dating back to the Mayflower.  His first “American” ancestors were the children of English, French and German immigrants in the 17th century.  How, we wonder, were those immigrants welcomed when they arrived? What kind of papers were demanded of them? But that is a discussion for another day, perhaps.

My mother is the first person in her family to be born in the U.S. Both of her parents emigrated to the U.S. in the mid 1930’s, fleeing from persecution — as Jews — in Europe.  I don’t know much about my grandfather’s arrival here, but I do know that my grandmother came here with her parents and her brother on the last transatlantic ocean liner before World War II broke out.  Our (possibly apocryphal) family story is that my great-grandfather — who had run a successful business in pre-Soviet Russia before having to flee the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s — walked into Chase Manhattan Bank in Manhattan “with nothing but a dollar and my name.”  The bank gave him a loan, and he went on to build a successful international export business.

What if instead of giving him that loan, the Bank had turned him in to immigration authorities? He and his wife and two teenage children — my grandmother and great uncle — would have been sent back to Europe.  As many other unlucky refugees were.  And this blog would not exist.  To say the least.

So the nut I continue to worry today is our apparent determination to forget, ignore or rewrite history.  And I’m not talking ancient Roman history, I’m talking about our own history — literally what our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents lived through.  It’s a cliche, I know, but we do seem pretty doomed to repeat the past.  We need to pay attention, people.  We’ve been through this before and we know how it ends.

All are welcome here.

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