I wonder if the Statue of Liberty ever cries? Her motto is “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
I think we have forgotten how we became a nation in the first place. In the beginning (unless you were born a Native American) we were all immigrants.
The last two hundred years, as a country, we have not really been faithful to the words at the bottom of our statue. In 1916 there was a bill before congress requiring immigrants to be able to pass a literacy test. Thankfully, the bill never passed. It went through Congress twice and was vetoed by two different Presidents. I read a commentary from a newspaper article, dated 1916, which argued that a Bill preventing illiterates from entering the country would not accomplish it’s purpose. You see, many thought the poor, illiterate people would bring more crime into the country.
From 1840 to 1930, 900,000 French speaking Quebec natives immigrated to New England. It was a time in Quebec history where Timber Barons ruled the land, farming produced low yields, and the general population lived in poverty. Some came to America hoping to return home with enough money to buy land. Others came to stay.
Some of my ancestors hopped the boarder continuously. They couldn’t decide which nationality they wanted to be. I think they lived where they could find work. My great-grandfather entered the United States for the final time in 1923. But, he had lived here before from 1895 to 1908. My older Great Aunts and Uncles were born in the United States. My Grandmother, who was one of the younger children, was born in Quebec. She came to America in October of 1923, at the age of 14, accompanied by only her five younger siblings. The whole family did not cross the boarder together. They wanted to make sure they were welcome and could find work before settling in the whole family. I don’t believe they were required to have formal paperwork to work in America. They just came. They lived in a little town in New Hampshire. They worked factory jobs, that nobody else wanted, in textile mill, and they lived in a little ethnic conclave. They were bullied…called names like frogs, pea-soupers and Canucks. Or, worse dumb-canucks! They were told they needed to speak white! They worked for lower wages than their English speaking counter-parts and were often used as strike breakers. You see, people did not like them because they refused, or were slow to assimilate.
One newspaper article from 1923, during the era of prohibition, said that “Quebec was a wet province and that extra immigration officials had been called to the boarder to take care of the endless procession of Canadians lured to the United States.” I wonder if my great-grandparents were amongst the endless procession of Canadians mentioned in the article? I wonder if they were ever accused of being boot-ledgers? I wonder if my Great grandparents ever became US citizens? I think my grandmother eventually did. I wonder if our country ever thought about just packing them up and sending them back to Quebec?
My great-grandmother never learned English and my grandmother did not speak English until she was 16. Her english was very accented and her spelling was atrocious. My great-grandma never assimilated. My grandma was only partially assimilated. She was proud of her French-Canadian heritage. My mom was born here and really embraced American culture. I never really thought about my mom being French or Canadian at all. Her daddy was an English speaking loyalist, born in the USA, with strong Quebecan roots. Me? I’m 100% American. Culturally, I’m a mixture of all who have settled this country before me. I love tacos, spaghetti, pizza and roast beef. I’m Yankee and Hillbilly, all mixed together. I speak Southern with a Mid-west twang. Total Heinz 57.
Because of our French brethren and others, we can have a little tête-à-tête. We might have it on the patio while grilling Bratwurst and enjoying our little dash hound puppies. Because of the influence of other countries, we are not brought down or destroyed. Yes we are changed. We are enriched.
Our country has not suffered because a century ago, 900,000 French speaking people crossed the boarder to immigrate. French has not become our national language. My French-Canadian ancestry has not caused me to be a criminal or ever engage in criminal activity. Nor my mom, my grandmother, or my great-grandmother. My family was just a poor family coming to America to try and forge a better life for themselves…just like our Mexican brothers and sisters.
It is awful how illegal immigrants are being treated now. When will we stop this and come up with a better way? When will we say enough is enough and truly allow our differences to become our strength. When will we realize that our great diversity all melted together is who we really are and why do we frown so much at those who choose to remain different?
When we learn from our past?