In her retirement, my mom has become the family genealogist. Family trees capturing generations of McHughs, Keatings, Biggios and Lagomarsinos are scattered in her home office. My ancestors migrated from Ireland and Italy, arriving in the Bronx and the overcrowded tenements of lower Manhattan, eventually making their way to the great borough of Brooklyn, NY.
My ancestors were not welcome in this country.
The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture that dominated the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century was not thrilled at the arrival of millions of Catholic immigrants. My family arrived in the U.S. at a time when Catholic churches were being vandalized and burned. In Philadelphia, deadly anti-Catholic riots took place in 1844 in current-day Kensington, Southwark, and Old City. In 1891, a mob of 10,000 people attack 11 Sicilian immigrants in New Orleans. Today, we’re seeing increased attacks on mosques, synagogues, and community centers.
It is easy, and convenient, to forget that a country that now embrace all things Italian (espresso, pizza, Gucci) and wears green on St. Patty’s Day once reviled the Irish and Italians. My ancestors were considered poor, disease-ridden, subhuman, lazy, unskilled, drunken criminals. Sound familiar?
The definition of who is an “American” has always been crafted by those in power in a way that excludes some while giving power to others. If you are the descendant of one of the Chinese, Japanese, German, Jewish, Irish, Italian or other immigrant groups who arrived here in the 1800 or 1900’s, at some point your families were denied access to this club (and maybe still are).
Immigration is a complex issue. It impacts the economic, social, and cultural development of our country in profound ways. There is plenty of room for civil disagreement about how we should handle the flow of people in and out of our borders. There is, however, no room for the hatred, vitriol, intolerance, and violence being espoused in this country today.
At WIT, we stand in support of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
In light of today’s climate of fear, WIT is working harder than ever to ensure that our space is safe and welcoming for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
We are now able to provide telephone and in-person counseling services to non-English speakers thanks to telephone and video interpreters. Our bilingual Spanish/English counseling program has expanded, and we have stepped up our outreach efforts to reach more immigrants and those for whom English is not a first language. We continue to collaborate with our friends at Nationality Services Center, HIAS PA, and SEAMAAC to ensure that all Survivors have access to the resources and support they need. And we have made the expansion of our services to marginalized communities a cornerstone of our strategic planning.
I don’t know the specific circumstances that led the Biggios, Lagomarsinos, Keatings, and McHughs to come to this country. I do know that they shared a common humanity with generations of people, past and current, who have come to the U.S. seeking safety and security. At WIT, we choose to honor that common humanity.