“ Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. “
- Robert Frost -
Some people call it “ICE” ; some pronounce it “Ice-ee “, like the popsicles we sucked on as kids. I don’t know why they were called popsicles. The “sicle”probably came from ice cicle. Ice is as cold as it gets, and for Dante it represented punishment for the worst sinners, in the Ninth Ring of Hell. Ice is hard. Hard and cold. ICE has another meaning also, which some like to speak out: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
I have spent considerable time meditating over this topic. Presenting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in such a cold, hard light may be unfair to the individual agents. Those who appear at someone’s work or residence are human beings with a job to do. They are merely the cold, hard point of the spear thrust by the government into the mass of immigrants. It reminds me of my son, who, when he was younger worked in an office at a hospital, calling people about their bills. He is and always was a polite, inoffensive young man. People would respond to his polite inquiries with verbal abuse, yelling and cursing him. So, I am not trying to label the ICE agents in an unfair light. Perhaps this is not possible. Perhaps this is the same as the post WW2 trials when Gestapo agents and concentration camp guards claimed they were only “obeying orders”. Are we ok with ICE agents and local police tearing children from their parents?
My father was born in 1920 in a Pennsylvania steel town to an Italian Immigrant family. His father and mother came from a small poor village in Italy, just prior to the first World War. Two older brothers and a sister came shortly after. Another brother was born in the US in 1917. A baby sister died in the Influenza Pandemic in 1919.
I heard stories from the older brothers about the low-paying dirty and dangerous jobs in the steel mills. One of them told me that it was a weekly, sometimes daily occurrence, to see a man crushed by a steel girder, or fall into a huge pot of molten iron. There were few safeguards. They were despised, called “Wops, Dagos and Guineas,” mistrusted as Catholics, or “papists”. The trial of two Italians, Sacco and Vanzetti, in the late 20’s led to Italians being looked on as potential anarchists. Italians who came over before WWI to Ellis Island were examined for open sores or tuberculosis, and had to sign a document that they were not anarchists. This was not “ strenuous vetting.” They moved on then to make their new lives. This treatment helped to create a feeling of isolation in the community. My father had to defend his “Roman Nose” and learned to fight.
The American Immigration Council raises the interesting question, “were our parents legal immigrants?“ One can hear discussions among Americans, that “my family came over from… ( enter almost any country) and they were legal! “ However, prior to the 1920’s there were almost no regulations regarding immigrants. Between 1880 and WWI 25 million immigrants arrived at Ellis Island. 25 million. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 affected Chinese immigrants, who, incidentally had been brought over after the Civil War to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. The Quota Law of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 created an early quota system, but European immigrants were still preferred. My dad’s family was already here and working in the steel mills. His dad died just before WWII, and, not wishing to stay and work in the mills, he and the next older brother left home and eventually enlisted in the US Marine Corps. They fought the island battles in the Pacific, his brother suffering a serious wound landing on Tarawa. He survived, married an Italian girl, had four children: one became a nun, another married a Mexican-American, another a Hawaiian and one a divorced Protestant. Their children all attend college. My dad married my mom, a New England girl. I became a pediatrician; my brother, head of the IT department of a hospital.
That time passed. We have several million undocumented immigrants, ie, no legal papers, living and working in our country. A different time? Mexican, Central and South Americans, Polish, Asian people, wash the dishes in our restaurants, blow leaves around for lawn care services, all the while having their ears deafened and inhaling blue fumes from the lawnmower engine on their backs. They work on the roads, change truck tires, pay taxes through a Taxpayer ID, receive no benefits, and dare not get sick or they may lose their jobs.
A friend of mine teaches young elementary school children in a white suburb. She is a Mexican-American but has been a US citizen for several years. When I speak of her to friends I find I always say “but she is an American citizen.” So what? I hate it that I do that. I explain to people who do not know her that she is a Mexican woman who came here, who is now American, has 2 Master’s Degrees and volunteers her time helping white Americans with community issues. I should not give a crap if they like it or not.
Some of the teachers and the administration harass her, mainly because she teaches little brown children in their nice white school in their nice white town. No, I cannot give you proof if you choose to not believe this. So, please ignore me if you believe prejudice does not exist. The children were mostly born here and are US citizens. Most of the parents are undocumented. The parents are ensuring that their children have their passports at hand; they do not open the door if they do not know who rings the bell; they come up with plans for the children in case mama’ or papa’ is detained at work. What will the children do? They ask their teacher and she has no answer for this. My friend cries. Her students test above average because she pushes them so they will not become drop-outs. The parents keep their apartments clean and neat like “good Americans.” They ensure their children do their homework. They take their children to soccer practice.
She teaches them about US history, about the Presidents, about Elections. But she has no answer for the parents. I struggle to console her, but I also have no answer. Fear is hard and cold. My mother’s forefathers fought in the American Revolution. They fought for independence of the colonies and for an ideal, that we would allow all people to live in peace and tolerance of all beliefs. That we would accept other immigrants from all over the world as we are such a people. But we seem to have forgotten where we came from. Our arrogance threatens to destroy our society.
A cold wind blows outside my window as I write this and I know that ICE is hard and cold. As an optimist I believe we Americans will weather this storm, but, a cold wind howls outside my window; and I am not certain.
Filed under: Uncategorized