Immigration Perspective–Part Two

Dear Editor:

What do we really know about the people who immigrated to the United States for three hundred plus years beginning in the early 1600’s?

English separatists, it might be fair to say, were people who were principled non-conformists who decided to take their chances with the Pequots and Narragansetts rather than accept persecution for what they believed. They gave up familiar surroundings for religious freedom. Today we sometimes call such people “refugees”.

South Florida’s Cuban-American population exited Cuba rather than live under Castro. Today, they are some of our most patriotic Americans.

When a family leaves Oaxaca, Mexico and travels close to three thousand miles to try their hand at life in an area where Spanish isn’t even the first language, what does that suggest about them? After all, most of those in their village will never leave, preferring to live out their lives in familiar surroundings regardless of how difficult life may be.

To me it says those who decide to leave are more determined to improve their lives than those who do not. It suggests those who decide to forsake all that they know for an unknown have confidence and courage that most of their neighbors do not. It is likely whoever initiated the move possesses considerable imagination and likely has a plan. A willingness to leave all that is familiar behind—just as it always has—suggests uncommon ability that provides such a dreamer with a sense that he/she can pull it off in a strange new land where not everyone welcomes him/her.

Our ancestors very likely were such people. The land of their birth—familiar though it was—wasn’t meeting their expectations. They may have prized more social mobility, economic opportunity, or religious or political freedom than they had—or were ever likely to have—in their native country. You see, our ancestors rolled the dice. They were risk takers, which is just the “ticket” in a free enterprise system.

It has long been my conviction that the United States is an exceptional country because its people are generally the descendants of exceptional people, if for no other reason than they left. Immigrants are typically the exception, not the rule. Those who are willing to put up with less stay put.

Say what you will about today’s immigrants, their essential experience is, in most regards, no different than it has been since 1607. One needs look no further than the vast majority of newly arrived people from south of the Rio Grande to confirm that they, too, fit the profile of our immigrant origins.

The United States is an extraordinary country largely because our ancestors were not ordinary. Whether they came to clear the woods with an axe to make room for a forty acre farm, dig the Canal with picks and shovels, mine and fashion the stone used to build a 175 foot church steeple in Albion, sit on a cabbage planter all day in the summer heat and dust, cut the mature cabbage heads in the mud during another frigid and rainy November, or establish a Mexican restaurant that is the talk of Western New York State, they likely didn’t do it on a whim. Leaving your familiar birthplace to travel thousands of miles to take a chance that life could be better in a strange place never has been anything like trying a new hairstyle.

America is similar to a functional patchwork quilt that isn’t yours or mine; it is ours. It has become an inspiration to the world no matter where ancestry.com tells us we originated. To me, God may have put innumerable different people on earth as a challenge. Might they look past superficial differences and get along? The answer provided by the American experience has generally been a resounding, “Yes”!

Sincerely yours,
Gary F. Kent
Albion, NY

Immigration Perspective–Part 1

Dear Editor:

The year was 1998. As I recall, the Reagan era Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was largely responsible for governing our approach toward undocumented immigrants.

At the time, the entire grounds crew at Atlantic City Country Club was of Mexican descent. The course superintendent had the highest regard for every one of them, just as he had for the Vietnamese immigrants who had earlier comprised much of the crew at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1998, the Social Security Administration discovered that the entire 23 person Atlantic City CC grounds crew was illegal. To prevent them from being deported, the course superintendent knew that each of his crew would have to come up with $2,000 initially, jump through a bunch of hoops, and pay another $2,000 in order to become legal, though not citizens. Some called this “amnesty”. Many still do. Tom Reynolds called it “amnesty” as I recall.

Congressman Chris Collins, one of President Trump’s earliest camp followers, insists that neither local farmers, nor their valuable employees, need worry about farm workers being rounded up by a deportation force.

Hopefully, Representative Collins is keeping track of the wind direction coming from Washington. Our food supply and economy may hang in the balance.

A reporter from The Boston Globe was in Orleans County earlier this week having a difficult time finding farmers who would speak to him on the record. It isn’t hard to understand their reluctance.

President Trump puts on a good show. It may be he is smart enough to realize that it had better be nothing more. From what I hear, farm workers are not so sure of his intentions. Even if he is mostly talk, he has many of them scared.

My brothers are two generations removed from what has ironically become a sort of stigma—immigration status—in a nation of immigrants! I guess my Austrian grandparents were legal (not sure about the ‘refugee’ thing), though they thought it wise to change their last name nonetheless.

My brother, Keith, worked for Martin Farms for many years. Cutting cabbage was his specialty, and he was the only “Anglo” Martin’s had who could cut cabbage with the migrant workers on a consistent basis—for years.

My brother, Kevin, was the only “Anglo” I ever saw who could match– hamper for hamper– the cucumber picking stamina of the Ramos family and the other Mexican-Americans from Mercedes, Texas who worked at Spalla Farms. (In case you missed that history lesson, Mexican people have been living in what is now the United States longer than Captain John Smith’s people.)

In the late 1960’s, I tried picking cucumbers for a grand total of three hours before surrender. Crying “Uncle” got me on the wagon dumping hampers.

Guess what? If Mr. Trump gets too carried away playing to his base and trying to match campaign rhetoric with “Presidential” action, we are in a lot of trouble. Farm workers reclaim abandoned houses, have their own local businesses, keep many local farms going, and are among the best students in Orleans County’s schools. None of the ones I have known was/is a “bad dude”, and I have known quite a few.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY