, Gloucester, MA

April 1, 2013

Letter: Revisionist history and immigration

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Oona O’Neill’s letter (the Times, Wednesday, March 27) criticizing Arthur Thomas’s earlier piece that urged people to “walk in the shoes” of today’s immigrants was dripping with angry nostalgia and very distorted history.

Ms. O’Neill waxes nostalgic for some halcyon era in American history that never existed. Her suggestion that today’s immigrants are, on some mass scale, being offered “ housing, food, energy, education, and health care...” — and that is causing our country’s fiscal woes was misleading to the point of being patently false.

The current crisis impacting our health care system, for example, has little to do with immigrants sucking the system dry. It has everything to do with the huge number of native born Americans who have no health insurance. The state of Texas is a glaring example of that reality.

Sure, some immigrants, like many poor U.S. citizens, receive various forms of social welfare and some, no doubt, abuse it. But does that mean we should turn our backs on and penalize the many who, often through no fault of their own, cannot provide for themselves or their families, be they immigrants or native born?

Ms. O’Neill also revealed in her letter just how little she really knows about the history of immigration in the United States.

She waxed nostalgic about the clean, tidy, Cleaveresque homes some immigrants were thankfully able to provide their families, but never mentioned the filth, squalor, and dire poverty millions of Irish, Italian, and various other immigrants were forced to live in when they first landed on our shores and were herded into urban ghettos and slums because those who viewed themselves as the “real Americans” of those years thought the new immigrants were beneath them and did not want them living in their neighborhoods.

She conveniently left out that, just up the Merrimack River in textile cities like Lawrence and Lowell, signs hung in the mills that read “Irish Need Not Apply” because they were stereotyped as lazy, drunken, Catholic hooligans by the WASP establishments that ran those cities.

She conveniently left out that hundreds of people died unnecessarily each year in those immigrant slums and ghettos from disease, malnutrition, and exposure to the elements because there was nowhere for them to turn for help.

She conveniently left out that when the wave of European immigration to the US shifted from northern to southern Europe in the late 19th century, the xenophobes of that era demanded the US government strictly limit, even forbid, southern Europeans, like Italians, from coming to America’s cities and shores.

Does any of this sound at all like the kind of ugly rhetoric we are hearing about immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, today ?

When I read letters like Ms. O’Neill’s, I realize just how true the old adage remains: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”