Living Links

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My great-grand father, Papou George, came over to the United States in April 1905, with a cousin. As my grandfather says, they had $15 between them, did not speak English and had left northern Greece, to travel to Athens and then across to New York. I am very fortunate because my grandfather is alive and provides a living link to my ancestors who came from a different country. Actually, I am extremely lucky because all four of my grandparents are still alive, even though out of a collective count of sixteen grandchildren on both sides, I am one of the youngest.

Soon after my great-grandfather immigrated to America, his younger brother Lysandros also came. Lysandros was my mother’s godfather; she was very close to him. She has many strong memories of her godfather and so she also provides a living link to him. When Lysandros came to the United States, folks couldn’t say his name and so everyone called him Alec. When I was born, I became his namesake. My Greek name is Lysandros.
Papou George and Lysandros came from an area in Northern Greece, claiming to be the closest spot to Mt. Olympus. Growing up, my grandfather always reminded me (he still does) that I am a direct descendent of Zeus. Until I visited the villages in Greece where my family members were born, I didn’t quite understand. Now I do. My great grandparents looked right out from their windows to the white cap of Mt. Olympus. The view is pretty impressive and I understand why my grandfather includes Zeus in his family jokes.

My grandfather also enjoys telling me a story of one of the initiation rites put upon my great-grandfather when he first came to live with a group of young Greek men in a triple decker house. Apparently, my great grandfather was instructed to go to the local store to buy some eggs. My great grandfather couldn’t speak English; so, to ask for eggs, he moved his arms and clucked like chicken. He then proudly made his way home with the eggs! My great grandfather opened up a little ice cream parlor in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Unbeknownst to my great grandfather, the shop was on the same street where his future daughter-in-law was to be born. My grandmother still has one of his little wrought iron chairs from the ice cream shop. It is in her kitchen.

One of the coolest things about the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is that we can trace our ancestors to the boats that carried them to America. An uncle of mine has researched our family and has found the manifesto that lists my great grandfather and my great, great, uncle’s (Lysandros) passage. What I don’t understand is that the manifesto lists them as coming from Turkey. We don’t know why this is the case; we imagine the error is due to the confusion taking place as the passengers came off the boats. My great great uncle had to be quarantined for a period because U.S. immigration officials believed he had a very contagious eye disease. Luckily, he was able to prove he was fine and then headed north from New York City to join his brother in Massachusetts.

I’ve taken pictures of the copies of the manifesto that my uncle gave to me. Here are the lists that include my great grandfather and great, great uncle.

What is remarkable to me is that once my grandfather had settled into the United States, my grandmother’s family planned for my great grandmother to leave northern Greece for an arranged marriage in the United States. She was only eighteen at the time and fourteen years younger than my great-grandfather. I can’t imagine how she felt, headed away from home younger than I am now, to meet the man in a strange country and start a new life. Talk about a living link – my great grandmother’s sister is still alive and lives in Athens. Whenever I have seen her, she speaks to me about how much my great grandmother missed her family in Greece, even though she had a good life in America. She worked in the shoe factories in Haverhill, Massachusetts and never veered far from her Greek roots. The life she had in America centered on the Greek Church, her Greek relatives, Greek holidays and foods, Greek friends and Greek markets. My mom tells me of one called “Radio Market” in Haverhill, which was the only shop that not only had a radio but that played Greek programming. A little Greek area grew around Radio Market – with a Greek Bakery and the Greek Church all in the same block.

My great grandparents arranged for more family members to come over from Greece. These families, along with mine, make up the continuing thread of immigration that makes America’s history what it is. I have many part-Greek cousins – my generation, like that of my mother’s are the ones that assimilated into the United States.

The Manifesto from Ellis Island:

I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog. Doing the research and writing was a lot of fun. It was also much more interesting than I imagined it was going to be. I would like to give a special thanks to individuals who wrote a guest blog and did interviews for me.

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Virginia Dream Act: Breaking Update

Virginia Dream Act News –NYTimes and NBC News

Attorney General Mark Herrings of Virginia announced that children of undocumented immigrants in Virginia now qualify for in-state tuition at public universities. Mr. Herrings stated that “‘I have concluded that in-state tuition rates can and should be extended’ to students who qualify. ‘They have known no home but Virginia,'” This decision was issued after Republicans in the General Assembly shot down the Dream Act earlier in the year. These students are required to have no legal record, must be a high school graduate, and must meet all requirements of other students.

Questions for discussion:

How do you feel about not allowing kids of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to complete their higher education in the US with in-state tuition?

Do you think it is right to give undocumented immigrants that entered the US under a specific age certain privileges? i.e. should children brought in the U.S. under the age of 16 be treated differently?

If you disagree with the Dream Act what do you believe the consequences are and what are your fears?

If undocumented immigrants come into the US, do you believe we should educate their children to become better contributing members of society when they grow up?

Do you agree/disagree with Attorney General Mark Herrings action to issue an opposing legal opinion than the Republicans General Assembly ruling to kill the state Dream Act earlier in the year?

Is this ruling unfair to documented immigrants in Virginia?

My thoughts: I agree with Mr. Herrings actions and I believe that every state should support the Dream Act. Please respond with yours.

Guest Post

Here is a Guest Post from a family member. I will not be sharing her name, but I want to share her story with all of you.

I have been thinking about immigration a lot. My father came to the USA in 1905. My mother came in 1922. They came by quotas. I have had no problems with that. I was just happy they could come and that I was born here.

My father came at the age of fifteen because Turkey was in control of Greece and the Turks were taking young Greek boys away from their families to fight for the Turkish army against the Greeks.

My grandmother gave my father a few gold coins and sent him on his way after dark.
My father walked from Kalloni, to the capital city Mytilini. I do not know how many kilometers Kalloni was from Mytilini. I do know that years ago a new road was built and driving time from Kalloni to Mytilini was forty five minutes.

My father came to Haverhill. He got a job for very little pay and lived with other young men from his village. They slept on the floor and were responsible for themselves.

In 1912, he went back to Greece to fight in the Balkan War. After the war, he returned to the United States and never had the chance to go back to Greece because of his commitment to his work.

For the rest of his working life, he worked six days a week from 6:30 until 8-9 o’clock. Sunday was his only day off. He started a grocery store in 1919 and had it until he got sick with heart trouble in 1958 and had to stop. He died in 1963. He probably had 2 or 3 week-long vacations his whole life, at least as far as I can remember.

My father’s life was not too much different from a lot of other young immigrant men of his time. Some of these men became very, very successful. Some, such as my father, were successful enough. My dad bought a triple-decker house, had a Pontiac car with a pull down shade in the back window, and sent his 2 children to college.

Education was the dream of all the Greek people who were early immigrants. Most of them had not had schooling past the second or third grade level. Many immigrants remained blue collar workers all their life. Even still, they recognized that with education, their children would have an easier life than they did.

I was born in the Depression. My father carried a lot of people every week who owed him money for their groceries. They would pay a little every week. My father provided their financial assistance, the government did not – government help and hand-outs did not exist.

People were very proud. They were responsible for themselves. I have heard of stories of mothers making Greek Avgolemono soup with water. No broth, no meat. I heard of another family who would shoot little birds from their 3rd floor tenement to cook for their families. I am sure a lot more stories like these exist.

My father had a salary of $32.00 every week. Two dollars went to my mother to spend as “mad” money – this meant an ice-cream sundae for me every Saturday downtown with my mother.

A government work program existed called the WPA. This was for fathers who needed work. They built buildings, roads, etc; and worked as much as they could to provide for their families. They would work 6 or 7 days a week. They had pride in their work and the families they were raising.

For all my life, I have always referred to my parents as immigrants from Greece, considering myself as the first generation born here. I am very proud of all immigrants and their families and what each has accomplished in the generations.

When my father and contemporaries came, they didn’t speak any English. When they got to Ellis Island, a note was pinned on their jackets with the name of the city they were going to. Life was not easy for them. They were stoned by previous immigrants who no longer found themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder. But my father, and all of the young boys he was with, knew that the U.S. gave them a huge opportunity. They worked hard to be good American citizens. Just being here was enough for them. Very few of them broke a law. As I raised my own family, I would have tears thinking about how my grandparents gave up their children at such young ages, so that they could lead a long and happy life in the U.S. They said goodbye to their children, and never saw them again.

I am so grateful for the opportunity the U.S. gave to my parents and the many Greek immigrants who I grew up alongside. I am also so grateful for the sacrifice my parents and others made for me and my generation.

Now we come to my point. The United States has laws on immigration. Because we are not enforcing these properly, either by people entering illegally over the borders or by not following the expiration of green cards, or visas or how ever— they have stayed here in the U.S. illegally. They are not documented because they are illegally here.

The U.S. cannot afford to open the flood gates to let anyone and everyone that wants to come here, enter. How we are going to solve the problem for the 11 million here illegally I do not know. But we need rules and laws and these have to be enforced.

I feel very badly for people who had to wait to come to the US the proper way.

I hope you can see my point of view in calling people who are not here legally, ILLEGAL!!

A Real U.S. Immigration Experience

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E-mail Interview with Isabella (not birth name, 28 years old)
8 April 2014

1.  What is your home country?

Macau, China

2.  How old were you when you wanted to come to the United States and why did you want to come?

I wanted to come to the US when I was about 15, and the reasons that I wanted to come was to be fluent in my English so I can be more competitive compared to other people.  To be honest with you, I didn’t give too many thoughts on why I wanted to come.  People back home always believe that someone who goes to school in the Western countries will have a brighter future, so back then, I just thought it would be a good decision to come to the US.

3. What steps did you have to take to get to the U.S. and how hard was it for you to figure out how to take the necessary steps? 

Since I was going to school to the US, I needed to get student visa in order to go to school here.  I actually got rejected two times – 1st time, the US embassy said that my English was not good enough and I needed to take more advanced courses to improve my English.  I think it also had to do with some of the documentation prepared by my high school in Oregon saying that my English was proficient, when in reality, it was the case.  The second time, can’t even remember why it was rejected – probably due to some of the incomplete supporting documentation? The US embassy does require tons of the documentation to prove that you are not intending to come over to the US and stay illegal.  You had to show that your family has sufficient $$$ to support your living in US, and your parents have jobs back home, etc.

4. Once you got to America, what kind of restrictions did the United States place on you as far as travel in and out of the U.S.?

I got lucky – my student visa granted me multiple entries and the visa is valid for 5 years and I can travel in and out of the US whenever I want.  I think people in mainland China tend to get one-year visa and they need to go back home to renew it every year! I know one of my friends in college got a one-year visa with single entry – which means when she leaves the US, she has to apply for another visa.  My friend said that it may have to do with her major (she planned to study biochemistry, which tends to be a sensitive field to be in since 9/11).

5. What is your current immigration status in the U.S.?  Do you have to continually fill out a lot of paper work and/or make applications (such as green card applications)?

I am currently on H1B visa, which is a work visa sponsored by my company.  My work visa is little bit unique than the other work visas, which needs to be first approved by the government through application and other supporting paperwork.  The application and other paperwork are handled by my company’s HR and the immigration law specialists engaged by my company.  I basically just need to provide information to them and they will take care of the rest.  Once the petition is approved by the government, I can take the approved petition and set up an appointment with the US embassy and get the visa stamp processed.

The firm is actually in the process of the sponsoring my green card – I am sure there are tons of applications and paperwork that go along with that, but similar to my H1B visa, they are handled by the immigration law specialists.  I think the green card process will be more time-consuming because there are different phases and I think in each phase, we need to submit different types of paperwork and/or applications.

6. Do you feel discriminated against in the U.S.?

In most cases, I don’t feel being discriminated – although I don’t like when some people trying to mimic how the foreigners speak English with accent.  They know they are just joking, just it makes me feel like they would mimic how I speak too!

7. Do you think the term “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” is symbolically degrading or are the people that are saying this making a big deal over something small in the overall scheme of U.S. immigration policy?

I think this term is a definitely symbolically degrading and I also think they are making such a big deal.  Sometimes, I feel like people in this country are insecure and think that the foreigners are stealing their jobs and that’s why they are making such a big deal.

8. Do you have thoughts on ways that you might have felt or would now feel more welcome coming into and staying in the U.S. or has your experience been what you expected?

I think in most of my experiences, I do feel welcomed.  Of course, that really has to do with which people you are dealing with. I feel like people from the West Coast seem to be more welcoming and open to non-white foreigners.  In the East Coast, people tend to be more reserved (except your mom haha). One observation I see is that Americans tend to more open to foreigners coming from Europe – not sure it has to be with the language (coz most people from Europe can speak better English)?

9. Do you see some glaring issues on how the United States looks at immigrants and foreign born people who are trying to make a new life in the United States?

I think people need to be more open-minded about the immigrants and foreign-born people. Most of us who come to the US are hoping to make a better life for us and for our families back home, and in the progress of achieving that goal, we do go through tons of obstacles such as being apart from our families, getting through language barrier, adjusting a new environment, making new friends, etc.

10. Do people from your country emigrate to countries/regions other than the United States and if so, can you comment and how their experience compares to yours in the U.S.?

I do know some people who emigrate to Canada, Australia, and England.  Based on what I heard, it sounds like US definitely has the most strict immigration rules and the immigration process is definitely the most time-consuming.  Take my best friend for an example – he got his master degree in Australia, and because of his master degree (and I am sure there are things that he qualifies), he gets to apply to be a permanent resident (i.e. green card status in US) and I think the process probably only took a year or two.

11. Are you happy being in the U.S. or do you want to go home?

I am definitely torn! I am happy being in here – I love the relatively laid-back lifestyle here and it seem like the quality of life in US is better.  But since my family is back in Macau, sometime I do want to go back home so that I can spend more quality time with them (especially the fact that I came over to US when I was 15!).

Why Do We Use the Word Illegal?

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Our immigration policies are controversial. The topics we are debating may be valid; but, the words we are using in our discussions need to change. We supposedly have 11 million people in the United States with questionable documentation. We refer to this group of people as “illegal aliens” or “illegal immigrants. “ These terms are inhumane and are just another way that the United States divides itself between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

 
As immigration lawyer Shahid Haque-Hausrath explains, when a person is arrested in the United States, our criminal justice system protects his or her innocence until proven guilty. This is why we say a person “allegedly” committed a crime before his or her trial. When we speak of immigrants as “illegal,” we pre-assign guilt to them. We have no idea their status and sometimes they don’t either. The term “illegal alien” implies a level of wrongdoing that is equivalent to criminal behavior. It also implies that this group of people is undesirable to live in the United States. As Eli Wiesel the Nobel Peace Prize winner asks, “human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful… but how can they be illegal?”

 
Our federal immigration laws are very different from the connotation that the terms “illegal alien” and/or “illegal immigrants” imply. Our federal immigration laws say that a person in the United States without proper documentation is considered to have committed a federal misdemeanor infraction, under our civil not our criminal statutes. Many anti-immigration proponents have tried to criminalize undocumented workers, but their efforts have failed. We as a society continue to recognize that we violate basic human rights if we criminalize people fleeing their countries in search of a safer and better life for themselves and their families.

 
At this point, I am not validating whether this group of people should rightfully get to remain in the United States. I am asking the question why we impose such derogatory and inaccurate terms to their already challenging circumstances. Can’t we think of a better term to describe a person who may have entered the United States with proper documentation and is now desperate to remain with family members who still have their necessary papers? Wouldn’t we show our own humanity by stopping the usage of the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant?” I argue that the term undocumented immigrant more specifically describes the status of this group of people. Before we dismiss them as criminals, we should think twice about the circumstances that brought them to the United States and how complex our immigration system must feel to them.

Lady Liberty – Who Are You Really?

chinese-railroad-workersThe United States takes pride in the fact that we are a country with open arms to immigrants. Since Emma Lazarus’s poem was inscribed on its pedestal, the Statue of Liberty has stood for this ideal. But at times, we seem to have forgotten her words.

Our immigration policies towards people from Asia show our inconsistencies, particularly at the turn of the century, when the largest number of all immigrants, including people from Asia, were coming to America. Today, people from Asia are one of America’s largest immigrant populations. According to the U.S. Census taken in 2010, the Asian population is 14.7 million and the total American population is 308.7 million. That means that roughly 5% of the American population is Asian American. They are admired for their contributions to education, business, and government. At this point in America, we thankfully have no restrictions against people from Asia.

However, this was not always the case. What I find most hard to believe is that at the turn of the century, we were passing some of the most restrictive immigration laws. These laws especially singled out people from Asia.

Before the Civil War, Americans migrated west for jobs in the railroad, mining, logging, fishing, and construction industries. A large population of these workers came from Asia, first China (in 1870, 20% of California’s workforce was of Chinese descent), and also from India, Japan, and Korea. The California Gold Rush also enticed waves of immigrants.

California Chinese Apology

The west’s expansion continued to grow until the Civil War ended. After the war, the country experienced a sharp economic downturn. Between the 1870s and 1880s, immigrants from Asia numbered 123,201. Pressure to restrict immigrants from Asia began to build because people from Asia were taking the jobs that “nativists” wanted, Anti-Chinese riots began to rage. Under this pressure, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited most immigration and naturalization of Chinese people. At the same time, Americans opposed to people from India, burned down Asian Indian settlements and campaigned against the “Turban tide.” Congress passed laws to strip land ownership from Asian Indians and from people from Japan.

In 1917, after decades of immigrant growth that had helped to fuel our industrial revolution and build our cities, Congress passed the 1917 Barred Zone Act. This prohibited most people from Asia from immigrating to America. The Supreme Court went so far as to say that while Asian Indians were Caucasian, they were not white and therefore could not come to the United States. This famous case was known as U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923).

After World War II, the United States changed its immigration policies towards people from Asia. Then these immigration laws were changed. By 1965, anti-Asia quotas were lifted and the public sentiment against people from Asia changed.

“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that immigrants were American history” (Handlin, 1951). What Handlin was suggesting is that some people in America have not been as welcoming to immigrants as they should have been. Where do we draw the line between original inhabitants and new immigrants? I cannot say that America’s efforts to write its immigration laws in the late 1800s and early 1900s were unjustified. American workers were afraid of losing their jobs. This was based on our faltering economy at the time. The controversy to me is that the Statue of Liberty is supposed to welcome immigrants, but our immigration laws have kept people out. Congress actually passed a law that used the words “barred zone” in its title. This makes me think that as a nation while we were saying one thing, we were clearly acting in a very different way.

My questions: Do we still have these inconsistencies today? How do Americans feel about current immigrants? Finally, what do the words in Emma Lazarus’s poem mean to Americans right now?

Lady Liberty – Who Are You?

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When you think of the Statue of Liberty, what is your first thought? The Statue of Liberty was conceived by a political activist in France who wanted to set an example to his country of American democracy. Edouard de Laboulaye was inspired by the United States Constitution, the fact that America held itself together through its civil war, and that it passed the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery and proving that justice and liberty for all was possible). He created a plan to partner with the United States to build a colossal statue as a way to strengthen the cause for democracy in France. Initially the Statue of Liberty was not as much about America, as it was about France.

The architect that designed the statue, Auguste Bartholdi, first called his work, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” He actually had designed a similarly colossal statue to stand tall at the opening of the Suez Canal, which he also wanted to represent freedom. His design was not accepted for the Suez Canal. Lucky for America, we got his design efforts in an improved version. Between Laboulaye and Bartholdi, they worked out a way to get France to pay for their idea of the statue and the United States to pay for the pedestal.

Bartholdi needed to hire an engineer to help him design how the structure would stand. When his first engineer unexpectedly died, Bartholdi reached out to another engineer named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Only after Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel oversaw the completion of the statue, did he return to France. He then designed one of the most famous structures in the world.

The United States was having a hard time finding funds to build the pedestal for the statue. Thankfully, Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper magnate, ran an ad in his newspaper, the New York World, asking for donations from the American public. He made a plea saying that the statue was “not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America” (Pulitzer). With this plea Pulitzer raised the necessary funds and in thanks, he published the names of each person who made a contribution, no matter the amount.

Other fundraising efforts were also taking place in the United States. One of these was a poetry competition. Emma Lazarus (inspired by her Sephardic Jewish descent) authored the winning poem, which she called The New Colossus. She wrote from the perspective of foreigners entering into New York’s harbor saying, “give me your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” (Lazarus). Her poem became a beacon to the “wretched refuse of teeming shores…” and stood for an America with open arms (Lazarus). It was published in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and the New York Times and (really, only after her death) expanded the symbols of the Statue of Liberty to represent immigration and opportunity, in addition to liberty – symbols that all remain today. Sixteen years after her death, one of her close friends persuaded officials to inscribe her poem on the statue’s pedestal.

My first thoughts on this magnificent lady focus on freedom and new opportunities for foreign born people. Most of our country’s symbolic statues depict our forefathers – but lady liberty represents something more than the people that founded our country, helped preserve our country, and fought for our country. As she holds her torch up high, she expresses all of our ideals, our discourse and debate, our struggles to overcome our differences and our efforts to preserve our great nation. She represents America.