I am a member of DSA’s Immigrant Rights Working Group, and I write here in support of the “Resolution On the Defense of Immigrants and Refugees” we have proposed for consideration at the 2023 DSA national convention.
Those who grew up here, now in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) programs or who are eligible for DACA, are just part of the picture of immigration that began, for my family, in the early 1900s. Along with tens of thousands of other Europeans, they came to the USA for land, work and reunion with relatives already here. That inclusion was essential to our country’s story then and is essential now. Organizations like DSA should never overlook or forget this.
During the period when my family entered as part of an Italian “quota,” immigration from Mexico and South America was across open borders and entry was easier for neighbors in the South to find work. They also worked in US companies in Mexico and in agriculture work and other food-related industries in the North. Most workers traveled back and forth, depending on jobs but usually having land in their home country where they “lived.”
My mother’s family came from Italy to make wine here, first on the East Coast and then in California where they bought land and started a winery in San Francisco. Prohibition put an end to those plans but, thanks to their knowledge of farms and farming, they were able to become farmers and supported many people with food during the worst part of the Great Depression.
They were helped greatly by other migrants, including Japanese families who leased land from them (Asian people could not buy land at that time, by law) while the orchards they planted grew to production. They attended public schools, and despite not knowing English when they started school, did well. Unlike many in her generation, my grandmother could read and write. She was one of the first people I knew who bought stocks and made investments in businesses like PG&E later in her life.
They were not a wealthy family. My mom had two dresses, one for school and one for Sundays. But they shared what they had and supported others and their new country during World War II. Two uncles were in the army, and one who stayed at home to work the land and oversee a local bakery that still operates today.
They faced considerable discrimination at public schools, and hid their nation of origin whenever possible. Like millions of other Americans from every other background, they were impoverished by the collapse of the US economy amid the Great Depression. New Deal programs aimed at stopping bank foreclosures prevented them from being forced off their land and becoming homeless. The bakery they operated was essentially given to them by two brothers who had no heirs. They wanted to keep the business they started within their community, with a family they knew would run it well. After the war, the family focused on the bakery and their land. uncle began to work on exporting their fruit to other nations and to the East Coast. When it was time to pick fruit and pack it, it was all hands on deck including workers, often from Mexico, who assisted them to harvest the fruit. Later in life, this uncle became one of the main distributors for farmers and farm cooperatives in the Fresno, California area. This helped to counteract the power of monopolies that harmed many farmers then and now.
So, after these first migrants came here and did so well, raising children who became teachers, doctors, and lawyers, what remains of our migrant origins, the past that I so cherish? Is it a famous name? No. Is it a statue in a park and the respect and admiration of a community? No. What is it?
For me, it is knowing that every group who comes here and faces discrimination, racism, and exclusion has the power to make this nation great and does so every day. I do not want that limited by partisan politics, economics, or limited thinking of politicians or policymakers.
In my own personal life I am surrounded by people who came here as migrants, often bringing family after them, and who never forgot the people “back home.” They have skills and abilities that may help save not only the USA but the world. We are a nation of migrants and indigenous people. It is, perhaps, those closest to both ends of this spectrum of “involvement” – the people who have always been here and those who have just arrived – who have the most to contribute. We need to listen, watch and ask them how everyone can help all to exist and thrive in these changing times.
I hope DSA supports a strong stand in support of migration and inclusion, with equal rights and support for all people here, no matter their current immigration status or nation of origin – including the tribal nations within our borders. Land back initiatives to restore rights of control to indigenous communities should be part of our planning for both new and established residents.
Workers are workers, and people are people. Protection and support for all is the lifeblood of sustainability for this nation. I do not believe any social change is possible without this. DSA must lead by its support for sound immigration policies, in the USA and throughout the global North.