In my study, along with dozens of family photos, there is my personal favorite. It was taken somewhere around World War I, but I don’t know the date exact date. In it, there stands a dashingly handsome Italian man, his muscles bulging from his undershirt, one arm around a pretty and petite bella regaza. They are standing before a run down building which may have been a garage apartment. Over their heads flies an American flag. The young Italian couple are poor, olive-skinned immigrants. They are proud to be in this country. You can see it in their smile, their hope for the future, their belief in what that flag stands for. They are Anthony and Theresa, my grandparents.
I am, like most Americans, a descendant of immigrants: Italian on my father’s side and Irish on my mother’s. By the time my generation came along, my family was thoroughly middle-class, thoroughly American, and a bit embarrassed about all those Old Country words and accents that peppered my grandparents’ speech. But we did not forget where we came from, the hardships our family endured on its way to the American dream. We did not forget what our flag meant: a nation of immigrants that was forever absorbing into itself the richness of old cultures and languages, of old flavors and aromas, of old sounds and colors and photographs.
Yesterday, on the grounds of the South Carolina State House, a new generation of immigrants waved the flag that my grandparents loved. They chanted “¡Sí, Se Puede!” “Yes we can!” According to The State, there were 3,000 people there (it looked like a lot more to me, but then I am mathematically challenged). They are not just content any more to just put our roofs on, to clean our chicken carcasses, or serve our guacamole salad. They don’t want to be invisible any more. They want the right to stand in front of a beat up old building, under an American flag and make a portrait that somebody will have in their study in 2096. They want to be like you and me. They want to be Americans.
Can’t we, the greatest nation of immigrants ever, figure out how to welcome them into our country? Can’t we acknowledge the debt we owe them, and all the millions like them, who have made our country what it is? Can’t we, once and for all, end the senseless xenophobia that mars the American soul? ¡Sí, Se Puede!