After Ellis Island

 

 

Prologue: Immigrants have been a major emphasis during Donald Trump’s first year in office. A series of administration travel bans have been halted by Federal Judges.  The president continues to promise to build “The Wall” to stop immigration from Mexico and Central American countries. Trump sees immigrants as a threat to the nation, especially Muslims and Hispanics. What a contrast with President John F. Kennedy who wrote , “A Nation of Immigrants”.

One of the most interesting immigrant experience that my husband and I have taken part in was when we visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City some years ago.  I wrote a column that described our visit. It was a travel back in time to the years when immigrants were welcomed into our country from nations all over the globe. Here is the column.

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Where did the immigrants go, once they passed the stern uniformed inspectors, the daunting tests and disembarked onto the dock in New York Harbor? How did they live — this generation that Oscar Handlin described so brilliantly in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Uprooted ?  What was the quality of their lives?

The immigrants were risk takers, leaving generations of ancestors behind them to venture over thousands of miles of ocean into a completely new life. Of the 12 million immigrants who came through Ellis Island, 8 million left the area with destinations pinned to their lapels. They climbed aboard trains and traveled to distant places across the country on the huge network of railroads. However, by 1900, most of the newcomers settled in four industrial states: New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Illinois. In New York City, they lived in ethnic enclaves on the Lower East Side. For the surge of eastern and southern European immigrants, the crowded tenements were a vast change from the villages they left behind in Belarus, Ukraine, Poland or Italy.

 

Today, at 90 Orchard Street on the corner of Broome Street in New York City, you can visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and enter the world of your ancestors who came and settled there. It is a fascinating and very personal experience to move with the tour guide through the building that was one of the actual tenements where immigrants lived. To walk into a cramped, dark three room apartment of 300 square feet and hear the history of the family who ate, slept and often worked there.

In 1920, Lazarus Salamon, A Hungarian immigrant wrote, “I feel like I had two lives. You plant something in the ground. It has its roots, and then, you transplant it where it stays permanently. That’s what happened to me.”

In a strange city, with streets jam-packed with pushcarts and trolley cars, the immigrants had to learn fast. Where to find work? Where to go to the butcher? Where to send the children to school? There was little time for contemplation or leisure. Each day brought new challenges and problems to solve. New questions to be answered. New hardships.  And of course, a new language to learn. The children who went to school learned the fastest and became interpreters for their parents.

“It was very, very different and very peculiar. We looked around and didn’t know what it was all about. A different world with different people. And it’s hard to adjust.” Helen Wolraich, a Polish immigrant, 1920.

At the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, three different tours bring the past to life. “Piecing It Together: Immigrants in the Garment Industry” takes you to two apartments, the Levine family in l897 who ran a garment shop in their home and the Rogarshevskys who are in mourning for their father, Abraham, who worked as a presser in a factory before succumbing to tuberculosis in l918. Almost every generation of immigrants to the Lower East Side had some connection to the garment industry.

A second tour, “Getting By: Immigrants Weather The Great Depressions of l873 and 1929” centers on the homes of the German-Jewish Gumpertz family (l870’s) and the Sicilian-Catholic Baldizzi family (1930’s). How they found work during hard times is vividly told as you stand and absorb their furnishings and treasured possessions brought from the old country. A tape by one of the descendants tells the personal story of each family. And the pictures, the faces looking out over the years are very powerful.

“My mother brought her candles, the ones you use on Friday nights. She brought her Bibles. She brought the things that were near and dear to us which were not very important to anybody but us. To us, they brought back memories.” Sam Auspitz, a Czechloslovakian immigrant, 1920.

A third tour is to the  “Confino family Apartment”, the recreated 1916 home of a Sephardic family from Kastoria. A costumed guide acting as Victoria Confino welcomes you and invites you to touch items, try on period clothing and dance to music played on a wind-up victrola. The museum describes this tour as “ perfect for families”. Children are welcomed on all the tours which run approximately one hour. There is also a walking tour, “The Streets Where We Lived.”

“Most dear to me are the shoes my mother wore when she first set foot on the soil of America. You must see those shoes to appreciate the courage my parents had and the sacrifices they made giving up family and security to try for a better life, but not knowing what lay ahead. We came to this country as many others did. POOR!  My mother’s shoes tell the whole story.” Birgitta Hedman Fichter, a Swedish immigrant in 1924.

Visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Take your children. It’s a very human experience. And it tells an inspiring story of “ The Uprooted” and the new life  they made here in America — for us.  Museum hours are Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For information  and reservations for all tours, phone 1-212-431-0233. Fax 212-431-0402.  Website: www.tenement.org

………………………………………………………………………………….Joyce S. Anderson

 

 

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America: Over 300 Million Guns & Most Mass Shootings!

Prologue: The latest mass shooting in our country took place at Sunday worship in a rural Texas church where a gunman murdered 26 people with his Ruger assault rifle.  Each time this happens , there are responses of horror.  Then–calls for gun controls versus the shooters are the problem, not the guns.  After the Texas massacre, President Trump called it , “a mental  health problem at the highest level”  and not “a guns situation”.  He also noted that another man with a gun was able to wound the killer and thus save untold others from death.  This reflected the N.R.A., National Rifle Association, slogan, “A good man with a gun is the answer to a bad man with a gun.”   N.R.A. insists we need more gun ownership, rather than less.  Note that Trump had signed a law in February revoking an Obama- era regulation that made it harder for a mentally ill person to purchase a gun.

How Can We Reduce Mass Shootings in The United States?   First,  let’s compare the number of guns we own to people in other developed countries.  Here are two sets of basic facts: America has the highest rate by far of ownership of firearms.  Guns per hundred people: United States: 88.8  Switzerland: 45.7 Sweden: 31.6  France: 31.2  Canada: 30.8  Germany: 30.3 Australia: 15.0  Italy:11.9  Spain: 10.4  England: 6.2  Japan. 0.6  Conclusions from these statistics:  U.S. private arsenal is six times as lethal as Canada’s and 30 times as deadly as Australia. Second, we compare Mass murders per 100,000 people. United States is first with 3.0. All other countries on the original list have fractions of one , Italy 0.7 Canada 0.5  down to zero for Japan.

Certain other contrasts are striking: U.S. had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012.  No other country had more than 18 mass shooters.  Are we a violent society? Since we are the most complex country of multiple races, ethnic goups, religions and nationalities, does that lead to increased violence among the groups and individuals?   Researchers have studied racial tensions and violence  for years.  In the current century, with the first African American president, Barack Obama, the incidents of violence  against black Americans shot upward.  During the Trump presidency,  Charlottesville produced violence when Neo Nazis and Ku Klux Klan marched . However, most researchers do not conclude that our complex makeup is a major cause of mass shootings.   Does the U.S. have more mental illness than other countries?   Does our health care system give service for mental illness comparable to other developed countries?  Are veterans of our long wars who have PTSD( Post Traumatic Stress )receiving proper treatment?  Answers to these questions are not as strong as many Americans would hope for.

Researchers agree that only one answer explains Mass Shootings in the United States: Owning 300 million guns!

First: Stop talking about “gun control”…. Change to “Gun safety” or “Reduce gun violence”.    Next: Concentrate on actions majorities of Americans agree should happen. From Pew Research Center survey that compared agreement of gun households with households with no guns on major actions.  Background checks for all gun buyers.  93% to 96%;  Preventing the mentally ill from buying guns.  89% for both groups; Nationwide ban on sale of guns to people convicted of violent crimes. 88%  to 85%.  Banning gun purchases by people on no fly lists.  82%  to 84%.  Federal mandatory waiting period. 72% to 89%.  Ban on making a semi-automatic gun work like an automatic gun. 67 % to 70%. Create a federal data base to track gun sales. 54%  to 80%. Ban on sale of high ammunition magazines. (l0 bullets plus)  44% to 77%.

Major question:  If the American people want all these measures to happen, why has the Congress failed to pass any laws?  The National Rifle Association keeps a score card on how every Senator and House Representative votes.  They are the most powerful lobby in the country.  Citizens have to elect senators and representatives who work for “gun safety” in this country.

Epilogue:  After Britain had a mass shooting in l987, they instituted strict gun control laws. Australia did the same after a 1996 mass shooting.  But the United States has repeatedly faced the same choice and has failed to do so.  Dan Hodges, a British journalist , wrote on Twitter ,five years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that murdered  20 first grade students at an elementary school in Connecticut, “In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate.  Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

Democrats Sweep Elections in VA, NJ, Cities & Suburbs Nationwide!

 

Prologue: On Tuesday, November 7, one year after Donald J. Trump was elected president, the American people sent him a resounding rejection message.  Women and men across the country voted in droves against his policies, programs, statements on TV and incessant tweets that revealed his incompetence, bigotry and ignorance of the duties of president,as defined in  The U.S. Constitution.  They had watched as his policies and programs were halted or banned by the Courts, and voted down by the Congress.  Trump  experienced daily  “checks and balances” of the executive branch.  Signing “executive orders” has been his favorite means of flexing power, surrounded in the Oval Office by supporters and photographers taking his picture as he holds up the latest order.

Virginia Election results:  Lt. Governor Ralph  Northam, a low-key physician and Gulf War Army veteran  defeated Republican Ed Gillespie, a corporate lobbyist,   in a racially charged campaign by nine points.  Trump, very unpopular in Virginia, had not been invited to appear with Gillespie. Voters ranked Health Care as one of their chief issues.  Democrats also captured the Lt. Governor and Attorney General positions.  The VA House of Delegates with 67 Republicans to 37 Democrats was hit by a tsunami.  Fifteen Republican incumbents, all men,  were defeated by first time Democrats,  eight women and seven men.  One seat remained contested.  It was possible that the Democrats would gain control and would challenge gerrymandered districts.  Danica Roem, a transgender woman had unseated Bob Marshall who described himself as the  “chief Homophobe” and had written the state’s transgender bathroom bill.  He had refused to debate Roem, and insisted on calling her  “he” and “him”.  After she won, Roem said,” I don’t attack my constituents.  Bob is one of my constituents now.”

New Jersey Election Results:  The Governor’s race was won by Phillip Murphy, a former Wall Street banker without any government experience.  He defeated Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, whose closeness to Governor Chris Christie  dogged  her throughout the campaign.  Christie, ending a tumultuous eight years fighting with the Democratic legislature, carried the Bridgegate scandal and close connections to PresidentTrump. He now holds the lowest approval rating of any state governor in modern history at 14 percent.  Murphy campaigned as a progressive, promising a $15 collar minimum wage, legalization of marijuana and a vow to stand up to the policies of the president. In Hoboken,  Ravi Bhalla became the state’s first Sikh mayor by overcoming an ethnic smear campaign with his image in a turban and the slogan, “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town.”  In another New Jersey  local election to the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders, John Carman, Republican incumbent, lost his seat to Ashley Bennett, a 32 year old health care worker.  He had watched the Women’s Anti- Trump March on January 21 and mocked it on Facebook, asking  “whether the protest would be over in time for them to cook dinner.”   Ashley Bennett decided to run against him when she heard his question.

Suburban and City Voters Chose Democrats: From the East coast to the West, Republican voters in suburbs and cities deserted Donald Trump, choosing Democrats for local and state positions. Representative Charles Dent,a leader of the moderate Republican caucus in the House is not running next year. His comment on the election results:”Voters are taking their anger out at the president, and the only way they can do that is by going after Republicans on the ballot.”  He also commented on the fact that 29 House Republicans will retire this year in contrast to seven Democrats, “Do they really want to go through another year of this?” In Washington State, Democrats took control of the State Senate in a special election. This meant the entire West coast, California, Oregon and Washington are now in Democratic control.  Chris Vance,  former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, completely blamed the president when he said, “Among college educated suburbanites, he is a pariah.”.

In the Deep South, Georgia Democrats won two House seats where no candidates had run before.  They also won a Senate seat in a suburban district of Atlanta.  Far North in Maine, the Republican governor, Paul Le Page,  had blocked Medicaid for 80,000 low income families available under the ACA. . Through a ballot proposal, 59 % of the voters approved versus 41%.   Racial barriers fell in many cities; Charlotte, North Carolina elected Vi Lyles, former city administrator as its first black female mayor. Kathy Tran, a Vietnamese American, was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. She said, “This election was a clear rejection of bigotry, hatred and racial violence.”

Epilogue:  Donald Trump was  far away on his Asia trip when the American people sent him the powerful rejection message with their votes.  Millions of men, women and children had watched the Charlottesville events over four months earlier.  They had heard President Trump hold citizen protestors of Neo Nazis and Ku Klux Klan marchers in their city described as equally responsible for the violence and ultimate murder of a protestor.  “Both sides” responsible, he said.  And “both sides had fine people”. His comments sent shock waves throughout the country.

Governor Ralph Northam expressed the strong feelings of the American people who cast their votes in this significant election when he said, “We live in a very diverse society.  It is getting more diverse every day. It is that diverse society that makes our country great.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………….Joyce S. Anderson