Recently we took a pre-Thanksgiving week of vacation in San Diego. On Saturday morning, we went to Barrio Logan, a Hispanic neighborhood we’d learned about online. While we’d read interesting things about the area, we didn’t see much happening, other than a really long line outside the restaurant most recommended on social media. On one side of a major street, we saw lots of colorful graffiti, a few homeless folks, and many older homes with small city gardens. Across the street, we saw a series of new metallic-industrial buildings with shops and restaurants that looked like they’d be hopping by midafternoon and late into the evening. That contrast seemed to be a clear sign of a neighborhood undergoing radical change.
Not finding much to do, we decided to head over to Little Italy. The difference was startling. There was nowhere to park, the sidewalks were packed with people, and a blocks-long food and artisan market had taken over one street. Fancy restaurants were serving brunch or setting up for the lunchtime rush. We ended up spending a couple hours in the area, and could easily have spent more.
Reflecting back on the morning, I found myself thinking about the waves of immigration in America and the discrimination, ostracism, and hatred that have met so many of those migrants. A century ago, Italians were frequently persecuted, and even lynched, just for being Italian. All sorts of stereotypical criminality was attributed to them. Today, the affluent and gentrified Little Italy in San Diego (and other such neighborhoods around the country, including the North End in Boston) bears little resemblance to the poor and rather isolated neighborhood it once was—and that Barrio Logan is today…although that, too, is changing.
In more recent years, many Hispanics have had to bear the brunt of anti-immigrant anger, abuse, and persecution. Our president has declared them a threat and the sole cause of so much of the nation’s woes—and acted accordingly. I would venture to say that the same happened to the Italians, in their day…and to the English pilgrims who came to America in 1620 to escape persecution in their homeland.
Somehow, at the cultural level, each of those persecuted immigrant groups have survived. (Yes, many individuals have suffered unspeakable trauma, and I am not discounting that in the least.) Slowly, steadily, each group has managed to make a home in this new world. Each has learned to make this country home, and to give thanks this week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving together—as one nation. One incredibly varied and interesting nation.
What types of persecution did your various ancestors face? If you don’t know of any, you might want to ask if other family members have stories. Who made your ancestors feel welcome in a new homeland?
If you are American, how might you celebrate that unity around the Thanksgiving table this week? If you’re not, how might you welcome migrants in your own community?