A Place Called Home
The book we feature in this issue is called HOME and is a collection of poems and music by a celebrated immigrant (Deepak Chopra) and two sons of immigrants Kabir Sehgal and Paul Avgerinos. Avgerinos is a celebrated composer and musician who pays moving tribute to his father Costa in our interview but also enunciates how most of we immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants are shocked by the current temper in this country that immigration is the cause of all our ills: in fact, immigration may be the cause of a great deal of our cultural and economic health.
Where would this country be without Albert Einstein, Irving Berlin, and Dr. George Papanikolaou, among whole generations of others? Where would any of our big cities be without them (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, but also places like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and New Orleans, Louisiana and St. Augustine, Florida where Greeks first immigrated in the 1700s?) Our Constitution and Declaration of Independence and whole system of government is based on the Enlightenment principles borrowed from a foreign country called Greece. There would be no America without the immigration of ideals from Greece, and the backbone of the immigrants from that country, and countries around the world, who literally make up the American fabric. The only Native Americans are Native Americans.
It is the absurd xenophobia that every demagogue uses as a tool and every country undergoes during the painful convulsions of change and uncertainty. The good old days in America were never stagnant, and the good old days also were fraught with ugliness and prejudice, very often against the immigrants who came here after undergoing impossible sacrifice and worked the hardest and made this country as great as it is.
Did we all come here legally at the outset? No. I remember the endless stories of relatives jumping ship in places like New Orleans and living in airless apartments while they worked in restaurants and outdoor fruit stands and steel mills until they became legal residents and as citizens became the economic backbone of cities throughout the United States with the businesses they ran and the churches and schools and cultural institutions they sponsored and the military services they staffed with their overweening patriotism. The new immigrants to this country are not exclusively the criminals and the rapists but many are like us who wanted a better life and wanted to give a better life to our family and the generations to come: Gonzalez and Ruiz and Szymborska have the same aspirations for their families that our parents and grandparents did.
Let’s not dissolve the family for the sake of the family: let’s not make this great country held together by the common ideals of freedom and tolerance and justice for all a place to be feared and embarrassed for rather than loved and admired.