Here is the text of a letter I sent to my Texas Congressmen in response to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims and refugees, the Wall, and the ICE raids carried out in Texas last week. Given that it is unlikely to be read by my state reps, I chose to address a broader audience and am now sharing it here in support of all immigrants in our country, regardless of documentation status.
As a Texan, I cannot envision my state without immigration. In Houston, Michel Elias Dabaghi, the son of Lebanese refugees and a world-class innovator in heart surgery, put Texas Medical Center on the map. Without Lebanese-American Clifford Jamal Antone, Austin’s sixth street might never have outshone other Southern blues hubs to make our state’s capitol also the live music capitol of the world. Our state’s most famous universities name Lebanese-American donors among their greatest benefactors: Joe D. Jamail has given over $50 million to the University of Texas, while Michael Halbouty provided not only for buildings, but also the campus’s sponsorship of George H. W. Bush’s presidential library in College Station.
On the day that I voted, I wore my grandfather’s ring to the polls. My grandfather was a first-generation American in a time when Italian immigrants were not considered to be white. His family came from unsustainable poverty in Southern Italy, kept alive by the charity of a nearby monastery, and arrived in America to Oklahoma only to be met with the Great Depression, racism, and more of the same poverty — hardly the wealth of opportunity that we like to believe our country offers. My grandfather’s father took a job in coal mines to support the family, and he himself later took a job in the burgeoning oil industry, though it was hardly the booming field then that we know it as today. My grandfather never lived a wealthy, comfortable life. He was at Okinawa in WWII and until the day he died, he never spoke a word of the horrors he experienced there. When he came home from the war, he attended Catholic mass nearly every day for the rest of his life. He volunteered for St. Vincent de Paul supporting his community’s poor, never with judgement or condescension, but with empathy. He was one of the rare few of strict pre-Vatican II upbringing who fully grasped the spirituality amidst the formality and the community in the rites. My grandfather had all sons. His whole family only ever had sons. In over 100 years, I’m the second girl to be born into my family, and my grandfather cherished this. He never valued me less than the many men in my family or imposed any limitations on my aspirations; if anything, quite the opposite.
Parable with a Skull by Jaroslav Rona (Prague, 1993)
On January 17, 1989, during demonstrations in Prague marking the 20th anniversary of Jan Palach’s self-immolation over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal wrote: “Maybe the old gods have died, but new gods are born, who have to pay the price.” Revolution is a Promethean burden, a tax levied in blood and land. If paid in full, a revolution can be successful, even heroic. The 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe progressed relatively smoothly with the help of land redistribution programs following the collapse of communism and the genocide of the region’s largest ethnic minority population under Hitler.
The American Civil War, however, was the opposite. The Civil War was fought for a number of complex reasons, though slavery remained the banner issue, yet the slaves themselves were largely excluded. The Civil War effectively killed off the landed white lower class, replacing it with a non-land-owning emancipated slave population, in which only the men eventually received three-fifths of the vote, while women everywhere were still unable to vote, leaving the country’s government in the hands of a minority, primarily white male population.
In essence, the 1989 revolutions provided a comparatively ethnically and economically homogeneous population with land ownership and political rights through a seemingly simple, bloodless process. Conversely, in America, the North won the blood-soaked Civil War and effectively ended slavery as a legal institution, yet ultimately lost the revolution by failing to enact a policy of inclusion, instead entrenching slavery in the country’s cultural make-up. The effect of these revolutions, their successes, and their failures, can still be seen to resonate in the modern struggles of the United States and European Union today, while the region’s differing histories have proven predictive of the differing ethnic and economic tensions that have developed in the decades and centuries since.