I follow our nation’s immigration policies with great interest. Discussions on this subject in our media, notably on talk radio and the Internet, often confuse the issues: Unless we are directly descended from native born, indigenous ancestors (American Indians) without “contamination” from other blood lines, all of us come from immigrants. That is, we are an immigrant nation.
I am the product of at least two lines of immigrants. The first line apparently derives from people who left England with General Oglethorpe to found the colony of Georgia. I accept with great enthusiasm that some of my maternal and paternal ancestors—Birdsongs, Richardsons, Neeses—may have arrived in the New World as “criminals” General Oglethorpe recruited from debtor prisons. And, by the way, I have ancestors from these lines who fought in the American Revolution—against the British— and the Southern Insurrection—against the legitimate government of the United States.
Frosolono Family History
Genealogical records document much of the Frosolono history, my other ancestral line, in America; however, family legends contribute to the story.
My great-grandfather, Federico Frosolono (1855-1892) came from Marsiconuova, near the Calabria region of Italy, and married Rosa Concello, also from that area. Some parts of the “legend” indicate Federico played the trombone in an Italian Army band; other aspects of the “legend” say he was an officer in a line regiment. Federico left the Italian Army and joined a worldwide Marxist organization. Because of this Marxist orientation, some of my New York academic colleagues speculated that Federico was part of Garibaldi’s army that led the way to unification of Italy.
The growing Frosolono family traveled through Europe while Federico recruited workers to this movement. My grandfather, Michael Concello (Daddy Mike) Frosolono, the youngest of Federico’s three sons, was born in Marseilles, France.
The Marxist organization subsequently assigned Federico to recruit workers in the United States. Giuseppe (Joe) and Antonio (Tony) came to the US in 1885 with Federico. Rosa and Daddy Mike arrived later, when he was twelve years of age. A daughter, Lisette, was born in the U.S. Federico recruited workers along the Eastern seaboard, from outside New York City to Florida, and often took some of his sons with him on these trips in which trains provided the primary mode of transportation. Federico had great success recruiting workers in Montgomery, AL, and was assassinated, by knife, at the age of 37 in that city. Mill owners in Montgomery reputedly hired the assassin. Federico’s death certificate simply states the cause of death was “peritonitis.”
Federico and his sons often stopped in LaGrange, GA, to spend the night in a railroad hotel. This area reminded them of Marsiconuova. Rosa, Joe, Daddy Mike, and Lisette settled in LaGrange after Federico’s death; Joe and Daddy Mike became reasonably successful owners of small businesses. Lisette married and moved to Kenosha, WI. Tony studied the violin in Russia and then lived in Chicago, IL, where he formed and managed several orchestras. He led the orchestra for the first national road tour of the hit musical, Oklahoma!
The Frosolono family was musically inclined. Along with Tony’s mastery of the violin, Joe and Daddy Mike played trombones and other musical instruments. These brothers often performed in subscription concerts in LaGrange. I inherited a non-significant portion of that musical talent.
Daddy Mike married my grandmother, Bonnie Ruth (Mama Ruth) Birdsong of LaGrange, who laid down certain conditions before agreeing to the union: Daddy Mike had to join the First Presbyterian Church, thereby renouncing his Catholic faith, and he had to speak English at home without teaching Italian to their children. Daddy Mike, a colorful character, was a fierce professional flyweight boxer, a highly talented master tailor, and a superb poker and pool player. During the Great Depression, he supported his family primarily with winnings at poker and pool rather than money earned in his tailor shop.
Rosa, Tony, Joe, and Daddy Mike became naturalized American citizens. Lisette was a citizen through birth. I did not know Rosa, Joe, or Lisette. Tony and Daddy Mike spoke English fluently, although Daddy Mike had a detectable accent. Despite Federico’s Marxist orientation, Tony and Daddy Mike became ardent capitalists. Tony funded his wealthy retirement through stock in the old Sinclair Oil Company.
This degree of assimilation into the predominant society and culture of the U.S. provides an example modern day immigrants should follow. Some of my Italian friends and colleagues in New York and Cleveland often lamented the fact that I abandoned my Italian heritage; but, I never think of myself as anything other than American, the result of Mama Ruth’s conditions to Daddy Mike. Around my sophomore year at LaGrange High School, I no longer considered myself a “typical” southern American, and tried my best to grow out of the racial prejudices common to the region at that time.
This personal and familial integration explains why immigrants and illegal aliens who not only refuse to learn English while insisting that Spanish become an official U.S. language infuriate me. Demonstrations with the provocative waving of Mexican flags incense me. I do not deny the importance some immigrants to this country place upon the heritage of their countries of origin, although I prefer we think of ourselves primarily as citizens or legal residents of the U.S. I’m not ashamed of my Italian heritage; I’m simply more cognizant and proud of my U.S. heritage.
Enforce the Laws
The following discussion refers primarily to adults who arrive here of their own volition by breaking the laws of this country. Many of these persons came to, and remain in, this country for the economic survival of their families or to escape real persecution. Nevertheless, such individuals are here illegally according to the laws of our country, despite the many heart-wrenching stories they relate. We may argue that sometimes “the law is an ass” relative to immigration, although allowing continued violation of our laws risks incalculable damage to our society.
I do not adhere to the term, “undocumented persons” in the U.S. Without proper documentation, such individuals are illegal immigrants who broke the laws of this country by entering outside our legal system. Even such “amnesties” like the one POTUS Obama recently exercised via executive decree do not obscure the fact of illegal entry. This executive decree arguably may be legal; however, the presidential action was neither necessary nor wise. As long as “amnesties” devoid of pathways to citizenship or long-term legal residence without citizenship exist, illegal immigration to this country will be difficult to control even with the expenditure of enormous sums of human and financial capital to “close the borders.”
I favor a program, which might lead to citizenship and/or long-term residence, for adult immigrants who have high-level skills needed to move this country forward. On the other hand, allowing “legal” guest workers, like farm workers, into this country for the sole purpose of low cost labor represents a form of indentured servitude similar to economic slavery. Accordingly, wages for menial labor should be no lower than those determined by the Federal minimum wage laws. I’m willing to pay the additional costs for my Vidalia onions and other crops picked by U.S. citizens and guest workers paid a standard fair wage.
I know the difficulties many farm owners face in harvesting crops without the help of illegal immigrants. We must fix this problem through changes in our immigration laws and closure of our borders.
Some illegal aliens may pay income and Social Security System taxes without hope of receiving benefits of the latter at a future date. Furthermore, almost all illegal aliens pay sales taxes where imposed. Even so, absent reliable data, how do we know these “off the books” taxes make up for the costs of supporting illegal aliens through our medical system, schools, law enforcement agencies, and other tax-supported institutions? Citizens and legal immigrants should not bear the financial burden needed to support illegal immigrants.
Legal immigrants add vitality to our culture, as did the Frosolono Family in my opinion. Compliance with Holy Scripture demands that we consider and interact with illegal aliens as our neighbors in the Christian sense. Yet, I see no demands in Holy Scripture that we must bankrupt this country for the sake of illegal immigrants. In this context, simply conduct the following thought experiment: What would happen to this country if we allowed anyone, without respect to socio-economic status or skill set, to enter and stay in this country unhindered?
We can best go forward by enforcing the current laws and passing new legislation recognizing the realities of our demographic situation and the vitality of legal immigrants. That is, we need legislation to facilitate an increasing number of legal immigrants who have skills (e.g., high tech or menial) that will help this country.
Photo credit: Nicola Romagna