Thanksgiving Thoughts on Our Immigrant Nation

It struck us, given the focus on immigration throughout most of this year, that our final reason for being thankful in 2012 should be our primary one in 2013.
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We closed our Thanksgiving blog last year with lyrics from a song "The House That I Live In," recorded by Frank Sinatra to encourage unity and tolerance during World War II, and the following comments:

America, the house we live in is a more diverse one, that it was at the outset of World War II and we believe a better one for it. The family in Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving dining room painting was all white. Today that family could also be African-American, Latino, Indian American, multi-ethnic, gay, straight and we are certain that we are better off because of this as well. For that we are thankful.

We also remember that on this Thanksgiving Day there are those without homes to live in, whether due to natural disasters such as the Super Storm Sandy, or personal circumstances. We know that because of who we are as Americans there are numerous citizens who will reach out to help them both on this day and throughout the year. That's America, the house that we live in, a nation of immigrants. That's the final reason we are thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.

It struck us, given the focus on immigration throughout most of this year, that our final reason for being thankful in 2012 should be our primary one in 2013.

America has always prided itself on being a nation of immigrants. The Statue of Liberty provides eloquent testimony to that with its inscription, which reads, in part:

Give me your tired, your poor,

your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

The achievements and the contributions of immigrants to the nation's success over time are legion. Famous first generation American immigrants, to name just a few, include: Albert Einstein (originally from Germany), I.M. Pei (an architect from China), Joseph Pulitzer (a newspaper publisher from Hungary), Felix Frankfurter (a Supreme Court justice from Austria), Madeleine Albright (the Secretary of State from Czechoslovakia), Hakeem Olajuwon (a basketball player from Nigeria) and Saint Francis X, along with Mother Cabrini (a nun from Italy).

More recently, it's been Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, who came here from Russia, and two scientists, Elizabeth Blackburn (from Australia) and Jack Szostak (from the U.K. via Canada) who shared the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 2009 (along with Carol Grieder) for their chromosomal research.

The list could go on and on. Add second generation immigrants to the list, it could go on almost forever. It is unquestionable that America has been the beneficiary of an unparalleled immigrant advantage, in terms of intellectual and human capital. For that we are thankful.

It's not just the "brain gain," as Darrell West of the Brookings Institution puts it, that immigrants have provided to the development of America and advancing the America dream. It's also been the incalculable contributions that immigrants have made in doing the back-breaking work required to eke out a living -- to make the economy hum and make the future better for their children. For that we are thankful.

One need only visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and its various centers to understand the magnitude and impact of the immigration movement over time, and its continuing effect today. The award winning documentary, Island of Hope, Island of Tears, depicts the stories of the millions of immigrants from around the world who passed through Ellis Island between 1890 and 1920 hoping for better lives for themselves and their descendants.

Singer songwriter Guy Clark tells one person's story emotionally and evocatively in his song, Immigrant Eyes:

Oh Ellis Island was swarming

Like a scene from a costume ball,
Decked out in the colors in Europe
And on fire with the hope of it all,
There my father's own father stood huddled
With the tired and hungry and scared.
Turn of the century pilgrims,
Bound by the dream that they shared,
They were standing in lines just like cattle,
Poked and prodded and shoved.
Some were one desk away from sweet freedom,
Some were were torn from someone they love.
Through this sprawling tower of babel
Came a young man confused and alone,
Determined and bound for America,
And carryin' everything that he owned.


Sometimes when I look in my grandfather's immigrant eyes,
I see that day reflected and I can't hold my feelings inside.
I see starting with nothing and working hard all of his life,
So don't take it for granted say grandfather's immigrant eyes.

Now he rocks and stares out the window,
But his eyes are still just as clear
As the day he sailed through the harbor,
And come ashore on the island of tears.
My grandfather's days are numbered,
But I won't let his memory die.
'Cause he gave me the gift of this country,
And the look in his immigrant eyes.

As we approach this Thanksgiving, we are thankful to be part of this immigrant nation. Frank Islam came here as an immigrant from India at the age of fifteen. Ed Crego's forebears have been here for more than three centuries. Nonetheless, with the exception of Native Americans, we all have immigrant lineage.

So, as part of this immigrant nation, we give thanks for the gift of this country. We give thanks for the Gang of Eight who forged the way in the Senate, and the full Senate that passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on June 27.

We give thanks that the Statue of Liberty officially reopened on July 4. We give thanks that Ellis Island reopened its doors -- at least partially -- on October 28.

We will bow our heads on and say a prayer on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, for the members of the House of Representatives, in the hope that they will remember their immigrant roots and be enlightened in 2014 to see fit to make The House that We Live In a suitable and accommodating one for all those immigrants residing here, and those yet to come.

These are our Thanksgiving thoughts on this immigrant nation in 2013.

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