Let them come to Chicago

Let them come to Chicago
Chicago is a city of masterpieces designed by people from someplace else. Image: Peter V. Bella

I was born and raised in Chicago. It is my home. Like my house, I know every nook and cranny of this city. I am comfortable here. I visited other cities in the world. No matter their allure or appeal, when I came home, I was home. Home is a place of comfort, safety, and to a certain extent, pride.

There was never a time I did not feel safe in Chicago. There was never a time I felt uncomfortable. There was never a time I did not feel proud to be a child of Chicago.

As a child I wandered the city on buses or foot. I was never scared. As an adult I worked in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city, and according to a major newspaper at the time, the country. I never feared.

I spent my younger years in a very diverse neighborhood. People spoke Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Italian, Greek. and other European languages. We moved south to a very Polish neighborhood.

I am the grandchild of immigrants. They came to Chicago.

My parents knew people from all walks of life. From poor to wealthy, illiterate to intellectual, the displaced from Europe to WASPs. I met many of these people. I was fortunate. I met people from everywhere. I heard about their struggles in the "old country" and here.

Many of the nuns at my elementary school were immigrants from Poland. They described their ravaged lives under the Nazi regime. I later met people who survived the concentration camps. I met Japanese, Germans, and Italians who lived in internment camps. Greeks who left a harsh country life and regime to settle here.

In my career as a police officer, I encountered African Americans who migrated from the south. Haitians who fled crushing poverty and cruelty. Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Russians, and other people from the world who fled horrible conditions. They came to Chicago.

People from someplace else helped make Chicago beautiful.

People from someplace else helped make Chicago beautiful. Image: Peter V. Bella

Chicago was settled and built by people from someplace else.

The first permanent settler was Haitian. The first permanent white settler was from Canada.

The men who turned a marshland by the lake into the most American of American cities came from the Eastern Seaboard. The Germans came. The Scandinavians came. The Irish, Italians. Greeks, Poles, Czechs, Bohemians, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarians, Filipinos, Vietnamese. People from all over the world.

They came to Chicago.


When Chicago needed brawn to build, digging down and going up, it relied on immigrants. Image: Peter V. Bella

Chicago was built and continues to thrive because it is a city of people from someplace else.

When Chicago needed brawn to build, digging down and going up, it relied on immigrants. When Chicago needed brains it relied on people from someplace else.

When wars, poverty, tyranny, or natural disasters created refugees, Chicago opened its doors. Chicago did not ask about their past. Chicago took them in. The vast majority became law abiding citizens. Their children and grand children became educated. Many are medical, legal, and other professionals. They opened businesses. They did the very same things the early immigrant settlers to Chicago did.

They came to Chicago.

They came to seek work. They came for opportunity. Many went from rags to riches or riches to rags. Some went from rags to riches to rags.

They came to Chicago.

They escaped poverty, tyranny, cruelty, the ravages of wars and post wars. They settled here, raised families, and worked. They did not ask for handouts or even a hand up.

There is a refugee crisis in the Middle East. People are fleeing war torn lands, terrorism, and unimaginable cruelty. They are fleeing tyranny and despotism. They are seeking what man sought throughout history, since the creation of ancient societies and the political power resulting from communal living.

They are seeking freedom.

Most of these people seek safety. A place to live where bombs will not fall. A place where their children will not be taken and inducted into the terrorist armies. A place where they can live their lives in peace.

We have politicians, political opinion makers, propagandists, and other public figures who want to shut the door on these people. Keep them out. Lock them out.

Many of these same people come from ancestors who fled the same conditions. America took their people in. Chicago took them in. Now, they slap the hand that created them. They are an embarrassment to the country and our city.

The comment sections of Chicago news media and social media are rife with xenophobia. People claiming to be "Americans" spewing hate against people from someplace else. Close the borders. Stop the hordes. No refugees in Chicago.

Maybe these people should look in the mirror. They should flap their soup coolers, repeating their last name or the last name of their grandparents. They should also repeat their ethnicity. Over and over again.

Sometime in the past their people came from someplace else. They came to Chicago.

Throughout its history Chicago took people in from someplace else. The other, the odd, the strange, the normal, the intellectual and illiterate. The few who were unsavory. The vast majority who were decent.

Chicago never shut the door in people's faces. It opened its heart. It took them in.

This is not a political issue. It is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is not a safety issue. It is not an issue to be politicized by propagandists and politicians.

This is a human issue. These are people who need help. Chicago never turned its back on people in need. We cannot and should not turn our backs on refugees fleeing the ravages of war.

Let them come to Chicago.

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