There’s Always Been an Ethnic Group to Attack, Now It’s Latinos

My grandfather, Michael Anthony Urbano, for whom I am named, came to the United States from Sicily not knowing a word of English. He, like countless others, heard that the streets were paved with gold and that anyone could become successful if they worked hard enough and took advantage of the opportunities. He arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, with a few dollars in his pocket, no job prospects, but a strong back and a willingness to work hard in the textile mills that abutted the Hoosac River. At the turn of the century, North Adams was the largest town in the US.

By the time I was born, my grandfather had opened a successful barber shop which doubled as a
“men’s emporium”. He was successful enough to feed and support a large family, as was typical at that time. When my mother went back to work, my grandfather and his cronies took care of me during the day. I learned some valuable social skills at a very early age, such as shooting pool, rolling bocci and bowling balls and playing poker. My uncles and aunts have told me stories about how much money my grandfather won on that “toddler in the corner” beating some newcomer in pool, while I was standing on a wooden crate to reach the table. There were probably other activities going on there, but I was too young to know or understand them. I loved every minute I was there. I can still smell the stale cigars and strong after shave that permeated the place.

My grandfather was a member of the “Family”, but not the family of Mario Puzo fame. It was the Italian males bonding together to protect themselves from attack by the Irish, Poles and the Germans, who resented the newcomers coming in and “stealing their jobs”. Sure, they did book making and had a numbers racket, it was done more as a community bonding than an operation of crooks. Say what you will about my grandfather’s background, he led the effort to build the first Italian church in the Berkshires, which is still standing today, opposite the MassMOCA modern art museum. He went to church each Sunday, dressed in his finest, including his boater in summer, and sat in the front rows. I was told he was good friends with the parish priests, who came to his establishment for haircuts and “other activities” frequently.

As much as we kid or romanticize the activities of “the Family”, during my grandfather’s day, it was a necessity. The dark-skinned “guineas, dagos, wops, etc.” were easy prey for the lighter skinned ethnic groups already established, so they formed a group to protect themselves and their families. This type of race bashing has been the history of the United States. The newest ethnic group or groups become targets of prejudicial hostilities because they “are different” or “they’re taking our jobs” They speak a different language, they have different values and they smell different. We speak a different language, have different values and smell different to them, as well.
I remember stories about resentment of the Vietnamese immigrants by some people in Lowell, Massachusetts, even though Lowell was in the midst of the high tech boom Many of the Vietnamese were working 3 jobs and saving the money to open their own business. That is what America is supposedly about, taking advantage of the opportunities available to you.

From the beginning of this country, we have been a nation of immigrants, except for the Native Americans, whom we have brutalized, stole from and then ignored. This is also a pernicious tradition throughout the history of the US, xenophobia, both internal and external to our borders. Whether it’s Joe McCarthy’s Red baiting, Bull Connor’s attack dogs, to the post 9-11 terrorizing of Arab-Americans, a country that prides itself on tolerance and diversity, has often shown little of either. Of course, the Jews have always been and continue to be convenient targets for many. There is still a large number of Americans who still believe the Jews control the American economy through ownership of all the banks, financial institutions and large corporations.

Today’s xenophobia involves the ruination of modern society and morals by allowing gays to marry and the increase in immigration of Hispanics, especially those crossing the border from Mexico or risking their lives by sailing on ramshackle boats from Cuba and Haiti. The dreams and aspirations of these people is no different than those of my grandfather’s or your ancestors, to build a better life for themselves, their families and their future generations.

Leave it to the ham-handed and limited focused Bush Administration to come up with a horrible approach to dealing with these immigration issues. Sending 6,000 National Guardsman to patrol the border of Mexico to stop illegal immigration is as dumb as having 140,0000 troops patrol post-war Iraq to “keep the peace”. All that’s being done is putting these patriotic, heroic men and women in harms way who will have little or no effectiveness in their stated mission. What the Bush Administration is trying to do is combine two separate issues and provide a solution to neither: protecting homeland security by catching terrorists at the borders and reduce the flood of immigrants to the American Southwest and South. The Bush Administration is very good at taking every issue and saying that 9/11/2001 changed how the US should approach it and then provide policy approaches that benefit big business and do the opposite of what any form of rational policy for the issue should be.

Let’s get real, real fast. Many of the immigrants are doing jobs that most Americans don’t want to do, manual labor such as landscaping, construction, security and cleaning. Working at Starbucks and McDonalds is preferable to these forms of work for many young workers. The US economy benefits by the immigrant’s services, because they do their jobs “more efficiently”, to use the asinine standards of the US Department of Labor in defining worker productivity. Since most of these workers are here illegally, they get paid under the table, so no employer share of Social Security is paid, and no other benefits are paid, so the productivity (worked performed divided by cost per hour) is greatly increased. These workers are not just hired by small businesses, either. Look at who is cleaning the floors at night in the buildings of large corporations. Latinos will soon become the largest ethnic group in the US and either the rest of us accept that and adjust or run the risk out being treated as a minority. Canada isn’t willing to import that many more Americans.

What makes sense is to declare a worker’s amnesty and issue guest workers cards to those who are working hard and just getting by. Let having a guest worker card allow them to apply for drivers licenses.They have to get to work in the suburbs, too. The bigger challenge will be to increase the number of teachers of Spanish and for corporations to provide Spanish speaking courses for their American workers and ESL classes for their immigrant guest workers. What also makes sense is to increase investment in Mexican industry under the Maquiladora program of NAFTA and increase foreign aid to Mexico and other South American countries to boost their economies. This serves a dual purpose: help them provide jobs so that their people don’t need or want to come to America and increases the market for US goods and services – sort of a South American Marshall Plan.

However, the long-standing paranoid strain in American politics, continued to be exploited by the Bush Leaguers, will prevent such a plan from being considered at this time, let alone being enacted into law and put into action. It would require sacrifice from the rich. It’s easier to force more sacrifice from our soldiers as the poor substitute.

TRD101 knows this: Each new generation of immigrants has enriched and strengthened the American economy, but also the American society by reminding us of what the real basic values this country was based. They are to be embraced and assimilated, not forced to work in fear and shame. It’s to all our benefit. Our forefathers and ancestors would expect no less from us. So would my grandfather, rascal that he was.

And that is The Real Deal 101 for today, like it or not.
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�© Copyright Michael Maynard, TRD101, July 2006.

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