The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigrants to Citizens...

My father came to this country as a small child, through Ellis Island, with his parents and older siblings. It wasn't too difficult for his family to adapt to life in New York City. They came from Bermuda, and English was their language, albeit not quite the same as the English spoken in their new country. My grandparents became citizens. They learned the history of this country and learned the pride of being an American. My grandfather found work at a meat company in the city. They bought a house. My grandmother planted a garden that took up most of the back yard. My grandfather built a boathouse for the small boat he would take out to Riverhead on weekends on the small trailer he built for that purpose. My grandparents made themselves at home in the United States, and raised the Old Glory on the flagpole in their front yard in the Jamaica section of New York City on all national ocassions. Their children went to school and did well. My father and all his brothers served in the Armed Forces, during World War II and the unrest in Korea thereafter. This is half of my heritage.

The other half isn't nearly so clear. My mother's family came to this country around the same time, I think, and possibly through Ellis Island. They came from Greece, and to this day no one seems to know what my grandfather's real last name was - but at Ellis Island, as was the custom, his name on his papers was shortened to the first five letters, Bales. My mother tells me the family insisted on the pronounciation from the original name, which is "Ballis," and though I see the name now and then, the owners either had a different original pronunciation, or gave up telling people it was not pronounced "bales," like cubes of hay. My mother's mother died when she was quite young, and I can't tell you whether my mother was born in this country or not, but she and her sister and brother grew up speaking English, and my grandfather learned it as well, as he would have to, to run the restaurant he did in Duluth, Minnesota.

I guess you could say that I am second-and-a half generation American. The way my family came to be Americans is the same as countless others. They came to this land with a dream in their hearts. They'd heard that dreams were possible in America, and they worked to make their own come true. They adapted. They learned our history and the ways of being an American. It's been this way since the country began.

We have so many people in this country now, from so many places around the world, who have heard that the United States is still a place of dreams. They have come here, some through Ellis Island, some across other borders. Some have come to go to school in this country and have decided to stay. Some have come ahead of their families, and save and scrimp to bring their families here. These new arrivals are still learning the history of this country, learning how we came to be, learning about The Revolutionary War that brought this nation to its birth, and the shame of The Civil War. They learned how the National Anthem came to be written. Some even learned to sing it, that difficult song that recounts the birth of this country, that holds the pride of this country in its nearly impossible range. These immigrants are becoming citizens, taking seriously the responsibilities as well as the privileges. They are adapting. They are becoming Americans.

Many others are crossing the borders in search of the same dream, but have not gone through the proper channels to legitimitize their presence. Others have come here legally, but have allowed their paperwork to elapse without continuance. These people are here illegally. There are thousands and thousands of them and today, May 1, 2006, they have made a stand to be noticed by their absence - in the workplace, in the schools, in the marketplace. They are objecting to the United States government's plans to deal with them. But they are not dealing with their own situations. They are not legitimate citizens here, and while I certainly do not advocate anything bad happening to them, these people do not have the rights and responsibilities of those who have taken their stands and become legitimate citizens. I am hoping that some sort of agreement will come between the national government and those illegal residents so that those who are qualified to become citizen of this country may be accorded that position as quickly as possible. I am hoping those of the same background and prior nationality of those not here legally will take it upon themselves to help those around them to qualify, to learn the language, to become legitimate American citizens.

Yes. I said learn the language. During the years when immigrant swarmed into this country through Ellis Island and settled in New York City and other eastern seabord cities, there were certain neighborhoods populated by an ethnicity where the residents spoke their native tongues - but the young ones went to school and spoke English. They interceded for their parents, and the parents made an effort to at least understand the language of the land to which they had moved. There is no reason for it to be otherwise. Certainly ethnicities should be able to maintain the language of their former countries, but in this country, the language is English. If one is to understand maps and road signs, news reports and political promises, one must learn the language of the land. Here is where those of that ethnicity who have already adapted can aid those newly arrived. Here is where the young ones, learning English in school, can help the parents understand. What a close-knot community (and think of the power!) that would build!

Should the National Anthem be translated into another language? For the purposes of understanding it, and the history of it, yes. But that means it must be translated accurately, with the references to the "rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." intact. That is the history of the National Anthem and of this country. Certainly an ethnic group who want to write an anthem of their own should - and perhaps they can come up with a melody more easily sung! - because the United States National Anthem is certainly not the only patriotic song in this country. It would be wonderful to have a variety from which to choose during times of national celebration -- but leave the original alone, please. There is too much history there, too much pride and too much meaning for alterations.

Are these immigrants of value? Of course they are! Should there be a system set up to more easily assimilate them into our country, to educate them to become citizens? Absolutely! The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written for the citizens of the United States of America! The sooner these people join in with the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the stronger and better this nation will become. I look with interest at Washington to see how this is addressed...and will speak of this again, I am sure!