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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Learning Or Shopping?

The New York Times comes in my mailbox every day on the same day that people in New York buy it from their newsstands.  It has become a model of efficiency that other papers, especially the Tampa Bay Times, should emulate.  The New Yorkers send it electronically to Lakeland, where it is printed, and it gets to my mailbox that same day.  I read it thoroughly -- even though the lack of comics and good news often makes me depressed. 


Actually, I shouldn't say that because the Biden administration is all about good news, as is the racial justice movement and everything the House does under Nancy Pelosi.  The Times specializes in international news, however, and that seldom is good.  We're still waiting for most of the world to move out of the 17th century.  They need the Enlightenment Era, but authoritarianism and saber-rattling continues to reign. 


Jordan is a relative exception as a usually peaceful nation, but it was in the news recently because cousins in the royal family (men, of course) have taken each other on.  Reading about it reminded me of when I spoke to a small group of Jordanian women, probably about 2005.  I had done a speech with a large audience for the State Department in DC on the history of American women, and a few months later, was asked to speak to Jordanian women who would be visiting Tampa.


We met around a conference table at the USF library.  I remember that it was during Ramadan, and some women stayed at the table during the break, while others went down for a Starbucks snack.  (Yes, there is a Starbucks in the library now; I wish there had been pre-internet, when I spent lots of research time there for my first books.)


The seminar went well while I discussed the 17th through the 19th centuries -- but when I got to the 1920s and started talking about women wearing short skirts, driving cars, smoking cigarettes, and dancing to jazz, the older man who was escorting the young women got upset.  Apparently shopping at International Plaza was on their agenda, and he insisted that this had to be done now, even though our allotted time was not over.  Several students made it clear that they would like to continue the discussion, but he determinedly showed them the door.  And they went.




Among other things I notice in the New York Times are the colorful photographs of international protests.  From Myanmar to Ukraine to Chad, the signs that demonstrators hold are in English.  Over and over again, I see non-English speakers carrying messages in a language that should be foreign to them.  It's not hard to figure out whose attention they are trying to get.  Ours, of course, and perhaps EU members who are proficient in English.


Hubby predicted this in his "World Peace and the Human Family." It was published in 1993, and it still is relevant is clear from the fact that it was reissued shortly before his death last year.  (I just looked it up and saw that it has five stars on Amazon.  I wish I could tell him.)  Anyway, some of his colleagues accused him of egocentrism and reminded us of the many sins of English speakers.  That opinion turned out to be wrong: The world has adopted our language, complex though it is.  Their protest signs are, in fact, a sign of the globalized human family.


Another NYT piece that I've had on my desk since February quoted the late Rush Limbaugh after Republicans lost the November election:  "Seventy-four-plus million Americans aren't going to shut up."  It reminded me of the 1964 election, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson pummeled Republican Barry Goldwater.  For a long time afterward, (in a much smaller voter population) the GOP slogan was "26 million Americans can't be wrong."


They were.  They eventually had to concede in lots of areas, including Medicare, which they opposed as "socialism" in the same way that they opposed Social Security three decades earlier.  Civil rights for Blacks and women's equality were hotly contested -- and gay rights unimaginable.  But conservatives apparently don't acknowledge history, at least modern history.  They also stumble by seeing everything in terms of right and wrong, black and white, leaving no room for gray and the humanity of us all. 


Hubby and I always found that our students were shocked when we said that conservatives seldom make history.  We had to point out that no one remembers John C. Calhoun, the great proponent of slavery, while almost everyone knows of Harriet Tubman and other anti-slavery leaders.  Abraham Lincoln is revered, but few of us can name the guys he defeated in his races for the presidency. 


And it was not just winning that made these people famous:  It was adherence to principle and having the courage to face down the status quo of their lifetimes – even if the goal could not be immediately achieved.  As Martin Luther King said to unionized garbage collectors who were on strike in Memphis, "I may not get there with you.., but we as a people will get to the Promised Land."  We have indeed overcome a lot during the last half-century – and never because we were "conservative."




Much has been said lately about the "caravans" of kids coming from Central America in search of jobs in the US.  Most are young men – really boys who should be in school, if there were free ones – but there are enough are young women that they are accused of plotting "anchor babies" that will allow them to stay.  I see the solution as being the prosecution of companies that hire them – Tyson, Armour, etc – companies that also steal their payroll taxes. 


I hope that the Biden administration will investigate and change the conversation from anti-immigrant to anti-exploiter.  Yes, we may have to pay a few pennies more for our chicken sandwiches and hamburgers, but it would be worth it if we can return to a more equitable economy.  Most experts say that our economic health depends on immigration – and always has.  Indeed, the biggest economic crash ever, the Great Depression, begin in 1929 – after immigration had been virtually outlawed in 1924.


Nor are working children a new phenomenon, either among natives or newcomers.  The biggest difference between the past and present, however, is that most newcomers in the earlier era of immigration were girls.  That era is defined as beginning in the 1840s, when a million people came here from Ireland – and another million starved to death because their mainstay food, potatoes, suffered a blight.  Immigration from Europe all but ended with restrictive laws in 1921 and 1924, when Congress closed the door after World War I.




Some of the early newcomers came as families, especially the Germans and Scandinavians who farmed the Midwest's virgin prairies.  Many though, came as individuals, especially girls from Ireland and Sweden; in some parts of those nations, more than 90% of those who boarded departing ships were female.  I researched this for my first book, Foreign and Female.  In a chapter that I called "Foreign Domestics," I emphasized the Irish who got jobs in American homes.  One study that I cited was an 1895 survey showing that 80% of Boston's servants were foreign born.  New York City had "169 agencies run for the purpose of distributing immigrant houseworkers."


Like today's immigrants, many sent their earnings back home. An 1868 writer said: "The great ambition of the Irish girl is to send something to her people as soon as possible… She will risk the danger of insufficient clothing or boots…rather than diminish the little hoard…  To keep her place, what will she not endure – sneers at her nationality, mockery of her peculiarities, even ridicule of her faith… Women send home more money than men."


Irish women indeed overcame the common prejudice against their religion to work, save, and bring other family members.  Many Irish servants worked for the same household all of their lives.  They sought these jobs because they provided free room and board, allowing them to buy the tickets that brought parents and brothers to a new world.  Countless women sacrificed so that their brothers could become priests, physicians, and other professions unattainable to women.


Next to the Irish, the women most likely to emigrate alone were Bohemian (Czech) and Swedes.  Swedish girls were known as exceptionally good workers, and they got jobs more easily than most immigrants.  And although most of us here in Cigar City are unaware of it, Bohemian women specialized in cigar making back home:  They took their talents to New York and Chicago, frequently preceding their men in making the move. 


Young Jewish women from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other Eastern European countries also traveled alone.  Many had to pay smugglers to take them out, as the government that persecuted them also wanted them to stay and pay taxes.  Few Jewish women worked in American homes; that would not be kosher.  Instead, most got jobs in factories, especially in the East Coast garment industry.


They, too, sent money home.  For example, sociologists reported in 1911:  "When Molly Davousta was thirteen, her mother and father, who had five younger children, sent her abroad out of Russia with the remarkable intention of having her provide a home."  Russian-born Getta Bursova was similar:  She had been earning a living since she was twelve.  Sarah Silberman, an Austrian Jew, had supported her family since age 14, sewing for factories in Vienna, London, and New York. 


You may have noticed that I did not refer to the Italians and Spanish-speakers who made up Tampa's immigrant community.  That is because we are exceptional:  Very few people emigrated directly from Spain, and our Cuban community also is unusual among Latin Americans of that era.  Lots of Italians, of course, came to America, but their conservative culture meant that they seldom were women traveling alone.  Women worked in the cigar industry here, but they usually traveled with people they knew; indeed, almost all who settled in Tampa came from two towns in Sicily.


Sicilians did (and do) suffer from an image of criminality, and much is made of criminals among today's Latin American immigrants.   Of course, this existed in the past, too, and unlike today, there were few laws to prevent exploitation.  Some immigrants had their precious tickets stolen; others gave up their belongings because they were falsely warned that they were illegal; and a few women even found themselves married against their will.  Sexual harassment was not recognized then, but countless women endured it.  In comparison, Americans seldom were harmed, as language was (and is) a barrier to criminals.


But I'm sure the same con games are played daily at our southern border.   I hope the Biden administration will correct this – primarily by insisting that the corporations exploiting immigrants instead build factories in their homelands, so that people don't have to leave their loved ones to earn a living.



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