Was thinking some more about immigration as I
celebrated part of my immigrant heritage on St. Patrick's Day.
Made lamb stew with turnips, and banana toffee pie for dessert. Listened
to the Frank Patterson "Ireland in Song" video that my mother gave me;
then watched "The Commitments," which she hated.
The movie still makes me laugh out loud, though. And I enjoyed it more
this time knowing that, since it was made in 1992, the job market has
improved dramatically for the Dublin ghetto and Jimmy is probably no
longer on the dole. In fact, many former Irish immigrants to Boston are
moving back to Ireland, now that jobs are available there, in search of
a better "quality of life."
Mother sang "I'll take you home again, Kathleen" -- a beautiful song
filled with a longing that probably would not be satisfied. Now we
learn, once again perhaps, that things are rarely hopeless. That famine,
"the Troubles," and the economic futility of a lovely country, can be
part of its history, but not necessarily its future.
I've been surprised to learn recently that it has become difficult for
the Irish to immigrate here and become citizens. So many prospective
good Americans from various countries, who want to follow the rules,
have been discouraged by our bizarre immigration policy: Hassle and
reject the honest people, and allow the rules-breakers to sneak in
Well, from what I know, my Irish forebears were welcomed. They had sense
enough not to stop in Yankee-dominated Boston, where "Irish need not
apply," but kept moving west to work on the railroads. My Grandad Fodge
became trainmaster of the Shawmut Line in western Pennsylvania.
He married Barbara, a daughter of German immigrants: "Grosspop," I'm
told, had to escape from Prussia after an unfortunate incident I've
heard variously described as a "crime of passion" and "murder." Sorry,
all you romantics out there, immigration wasn't all about "your tired,
your poor, your huddled masses"; sometimes it was about criminals
yearning to continue "to breathe free" or indeed, continue to breathe at
all. Unlike Grosspop, some followed a criminal life as Americans, too.
Western Pennsylvania wasn't an early example of "melting pot." While the
Catholic Germans who founded my hometown got along pretty well with the
railroad Irish who settled there, the Italians, Poles and Swedes decided
to found their own towns a safe number of miles away and apart.
Human beings have always been tribal, preferring the small numbers of
their "own" to any surge of "the others" coming from anywhere. As our
human characteristics evolved, fear of strangers usually made sense from
a survival standpoint. And when places became too crowded, tribes
resisted newcomers, or moved on.
Anyhow, there weren't enough Croatians to make their own town, so my
father's family initially settled up in the hills with their farms and
their whisky still, watching out for the feds during Prohibition.
The German-Irish ignored that quaint historic episode as well; they kept
the local brewery busy, avoiding trouble by not exporting the dark
One might ask, what part of "illegal" didn't the Croatians, Germans and
Irish understand? I guess I got my sense of law and order from my
Grandpa Horvatin, who when I came along, was a cop -- until he arrested
the drunk and disorderly mayor of my hometown.
His Croatian wife's name was Barbara, too, so I was named from my
family's Slavic/Celtic-Germanic melting pot. Though the Anderson of
course is Swedish, from my second husband, my son picked up more Irish
ancestors from my first. My twin grandkids, who turn 6 this week, have
even more variety in their genes -- all those immigrants, down through
the decades of American history, culminating in perfection from this
They just returned from a month at their little vacation home in Baja
California, a part of Mexico that is attracting American expatriates.
While there they bought another piece of land nearby (in partnership, as
is the law, with a Mexican bank, so that foreigners do not control the
prime real estate.) They would like to live there full time someday.
The twins love it, and no wonder -- it's like living in the United
States during the '40s and '50s. They go outside to play with the
Mexican neighbor kids, running from house to house on dirt roads, learn
Spanish (the language of the country they are in) at a one-room
schoolhouse, get to ride in the back of a pickup truck, and don't miss
television, computers or the worst vulgarities of our present U.S.
Maybe the true American spirit is to do what our forefathers did -- find
a better place. Someday it might get too crowded in Baja and in Ireland,
anywhere that is attractive to immigrants. I'd note, however, that the
Mexicans have more control over their immigration than we do; and I
predict the Irish will protect their lovely uncrowded environment before
it's too late.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government and too many thoughtless Americans are
ignoring the impact of unlimited, uncontrolled numbers and seem
hell-bent on destroying the country that so many good immigrants built.
Prepare to be stunned by:
IMMIGRATION BY THE NUMBERS
By Ron Beck
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.