Unless your ancestors all were full-blooded American Indians, they, of one, two, or however many generations past, were strangers in this land of America. Many were mistreated, many more exploited, and still more were, well, “invisible” to the descendants of previous immigrants. Just as the many immigrants who work all around us in the Hamptons, in shops and restaurants, on lawns and construction sites, and who we see shopping with their families, are not much seen as just people, much like us, because they are “strange.” They speak languages we don’t understand, many do not look like us, and because some can’t afford cars, they ride bicycles in winter, in rain, and at night. So we pass by them as we pass by inanimate objects.
I hope I’m not a sentimentalist, nor am I asking you to be one. I just try to look at them, to see their faces, their individual faces, with their human expressions reflecting my immigrant father’s and my immigrant maternal grandparents’ relations with the sometimes hope-inspiring America, the sometimes fearsome America, and the often bewildering America. I apologize if I am preaching in asking you to empathize with them by the simple exercise of remembering your immigrant relatives, or, if they were before your time, learning about them or people like them, and seeing them in the faces of the many immigrants in our midst. They are a continuation of the great stream, flowing from long before any of us were born, of tens of millions of “strange” — and for the most part poor — people who made the U.S. possible, who made us — you and I — possible. Whether they said “svim catcha,” thought the Philistines were a baseball team, or came here on a slave ship or on the Mayflower, they were all “strange” as can be.
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