Even though it was a holiday, my dad woke us early. We put on the red, white and blue outfits my mom bought the week before and ran downstairs for a quick breakfast. My dad never missed the Blue Island 4th of July parade and once we parked, he’d shuffle us along until he found the perfect spot to watch it.
The route started somewhere around 130th and ran north along Western Avenue. It’d draw hundreds of people from every side of the city and was filled with marching bands, blaring fire trucks, decked out community groups and even politicians, but nothing could top my favorite. The… what felt like… ginormous Knights of Columbus guys in their dark uniforms and crazy hats riding their teeny, tiny scooters in ridiculously small circles.
It was a loud, bright, colorful and crowded mash up of cultures and people from all nationalities. For me, this was what the 4th was… and still is all about.
Blue Island’s on the far south side of Chicago just outside the city limits. It’s a working-class neighborhood and home to all ethnicities. Unlike most people his age, that never seemed to bother my dad. He was a college educated guy raised by an Italian immigrant who landed on Ellis Island in May of 1915.
My grandfather settled in South Orange, New Jersey and earned his living as a tailor, eventually owning and operating his own clothing manufacturing company.
He died before I was born, but from what I knew he was a proud, hard working guy. He raised his seven children to be just as proud, polite, hard-working and successful. Each one of them surpassed his expectations and did more than make a good living. They managed departments, regions and even launched their own companies. Pretty amazing when you think about it. I mean… their father immigrated to America at the age of 23 with next to nothing yet his children went on to do great things.
We moved to Beverly on the south side of Chicago in the early 1970s and even in this time of “white flight” my dad insisted on living there. It wasn’t until I was older and saw where he grew up that I realized why. Beverly feels a lot like South Orange, New Jersey. Tree-lined streets filled with big, old, stately homes owned by a very diverse mix of people. Although my mom didn’t have an ounce of Italian blood in her, my dad looked as if he’d just stepped off the set of The Godfather. I guess in a neighborhood filled with Irish, Catholics, we kind of stood out, but no more than the Hispanic family next door or the black family down the block.
Taking his kids to a big, multi-cultural parade was brave in those days of white flight and race riots, but that didn’t seem to faze my dad. He stood proudly watching and pointing out the floats he liked best while we all clapped, cheered and sang for every group passing by us.
It was a true celebration of community and an even truer celebration of our independence.
I’ve been thinking about the past and comparing it to the present and this 4th of July feels very different from the ones of my childhood. People like my grandfather immigrating to America are being held like prisoners in cages. Children… babies!… are getting pulled from their parents and instead of welcoming them, we’re dividing families and subjecting them to squalid conditions and years of legal hoops before allowing them to enter our country.
When my grandfather arrived on Ellis Island, he, along with most of the immigrants arriving with him passed thru immigration within 3 to 5 hours, no passports or visas necessary. They simply told the agents where they were going and who they’d be living with. No ID cards, no documents needed. Imagine that!
The screening process took form as a medical exam and it was doctors who decided if they were healthy, mentally fit and able to move thru.
Not a perfect process by any means, but over 12 million immigrants passed thru Ellis Island alone between 1892 and 1954 to escape war and poverty. Only 2% of them were detained for over 24 hours, and rarely were any held for more than a couple of months. (Learn more here.)
Most immigrants started off working in restaurants, small shops or in the trades and most ended up like my grandfather. They moved in with the people sponsoring them, usually family and were supported by the communities they lived in, contributing to our economy immediately.
I wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case nor would anyone else who isn’t a Native American.
Today most of the people coming to our country are doing so as a last-ditch effort to save their lives and their children’s lives. Think how desperate they must feel to leave the only home they’ve ever known… just to arrive and have their families ripped apart. What the hell is happening to America?
Don’t tell me there’s no room for more people in our country. Don’t tell me there aren’t any jobs or any place for them. Instead of building walls, why aren’t we putting our money into training people and programs to build our economy?
In my industry, we are losing seasoned sewing operators. Without a new generation knowing how to work a commercial sewing machine, we’ll never end the fight with fast fashion. Manufacturing will never come back to the States if there aren’t younger people being trained here, willing and able to do the work. My grandfather started that way and built a business with his sewing skills and experience. His ability to start that way was the foundation for his business that eventually supported his family, allowing his children the opportunity to go on to college and their children and so on…
Cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York are losing the talent we need to keep clothing manufacturing in the States. If the humanitarian angle isn’t working for you, then look at it from an environmental angle. If we don’t have the people here to make our clothes, we’ll never be able to compete with the companies sewing overseas, polluting our water and damaging our planet.
It’s not just the clothing industry that needs help either. How about the trades? As the older trade workers are retiring, ya know the plumbers, electricians and carpenters, there’s a growing shortage of young people to take their place.
“That has to change because left unchecked, this could blossom into an acute skilled worker shortage that touches everyone. It will mean higher costs or delays for those building new office towers, rehabbing houses or merely dealing with annoying, everyday emergencies like clogged toilets and sinks.”
We need more skilled workers willing to repair our roads and infrastructure and even to build a necessary clean energy grid. We NEED immigrants and by providing them with proper training, job security and support, we could once again lead by example, grow our economy and really take on Climate Change.
I’m not saying all immigrants should be forced to manual labor either. We’re turning away brilliant doctors, tech gurus and other entrepreneurs who could contribute to our economy and enhance our communities. We need to become a country that once again welcomes immigrants instead of one that fears them.
Yeah, I know it’s been awhile since we migrated from Britain, but the 4th of July is a holiday to celebrate our escape from oppression some 243 years ago, not to show off our military force. The Framers of our Constitution worked to ensure our military would be put under civilian control for a reason. Only kings and dictators still control their military, but civilian control is what makes America… well… America, and that separation is the essence of our independence.
There’s a reason we rarely see tanks rolling down our streets and it’s because the Framers of our Constitution didn’t want citizens to be threatened or oppressed by their own government and military. We don’t need a parade filled with soldiers and tanks.
This 4th of July, more than ever, we need our local and national parades to look more like the one I watched as a kid… One filled with culture, color, song and pride.
A parade that reflects our diversity and makes us proud to be wearing the colors of our flag and the only guys in uniform should be riding teeny tiny scooters, driving in little circles and making us laugh.
– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer
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TO HEAR FROM YOU
Where did your family immigrate from & what impact have they made in the U.S.A.?
Please share your own thoughts with ME – let’s get a conversation started in the comments below! Your comment may even win you a free MAJAMAS® EARTH garment this week!
One thought on “Immigration Celebration”
My grandfather never talked about his family. My grandmother said Grandpa grew up on a dairy farm in DuQuoin, IL. Grandma’s parents -her mom was from Ireland, Dad from England. They met in the boat coming over. I know, how romantic, right? But that’s all I know. Grandpa said “ we are American”. ( end of subject) and it never occurred to me to ask more.
My ex-husband’s family – on his dad’s side, they are Chippewa and Oneida. Grandpa Benjamin Littlecreek was a spokesperson for his people, who lived/live on Red Lake Reservation, near Bemidji, MN. He traveled the country telling stories of his people. My brother-in-law has a photo of Grandpa Benjamin with the President (and some other dignitaries) in Washington, DC.
Mom Littlecreek’s family is English, German and possibly French (someone was in Napoleon’s army).
So, my children are “melting pot American. We are American. Period.