Sh!t Holes: A Retrospective

Sh!t Holes: A Retrospective

Admittedly, a little late to this party, but just watched John Oliver talking about President Trump and the World. Oliver’s extended essay focused on the decrease of soft power in the US foreign relations. Oliver made the point that calling certain nations shit holes (or is it shitholes?) may not be the best way to convince other African nations to help the United States in its own global efforts. The shit hole comment is one for the ages. When the story first broke, I remember thinking, “my grandparents came from a shit hole.” The further down the immigration genealogy tree, the more romantic the visions of the ancestral lands become.

I won’t go into all the different shit holes that have provided the labor force of the United States over the last two centuries, just the ones those of my ancestors. Your mileage may vary. Perhaps your ancestors came from wonderful, perfect countries like Norway. Perhaps they woke up one fine morning and just decided, “things are great here, but let’s move anyway.” That was not the experience of my people. The list:

Sicily: This is the home country of my maternal grandparents. They were part of the Great Italian Migration from 1876-1915, when millions of Italians left the boot, fleeing a poor rural economy, high crime and disease. In that time frame, over one million of those immigrants were from the island of Sicily alone. Even today, Sicily is one of the poorest regions of Italian, ranking 20th out of 21 regions in the country in GDP per capita.

Ireland: The Emerald Isle has a pretty good reputation these days, but in the days when my paternal great grandparents (or maybe great-great) made their way to the US that was most certainly not the case. In the early nineteenth century, Ireland was quite poor, or at least the Irish living there were. Even before the Great Famine, between 1815-1845 over 1 million Irish residents emigrated off the island. When the famine hit, another million would leave and more devastating a million more would die of starvation, sickness or a combination of the two.

Germany: Kaufmann family legend has it that some grandfather down the line left Heidelberg in a bit of a rush after murdering a man. Even if that part of the story is a tall tale, murder and death were pretty common in the German lands when the great rush of German speaking people came to the colonies then United States. Starting with the 30 Years War and extending into the twentieth century, war was ever present throughout the German states. It might not be as all consuming as the Thirty Years War was, but given time, war and all that comes with it, was bound to find its way to ones doorstep. Just a sampling of conflicts post the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia: The Great Turkish Wars, The War of Spanish Succession, The War of Austrian Succession, The Napoleonic Wars, The Wars of Unification, The Franco-Prussian War, and of course the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. I haven’t done the counting, but post 1945 might be the longest period in centuries that German lands haven’t seen all out armed conflict.

So, just to recap: crippling poverty, disease, famine and war were the hallmarks of the regions my ancestors when they were living there. Or, you know, shit holes.

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