My father, an illegal immigrant from Greece, jumped ship from the Greek Merchant Marine sometime in the 1940s when that ship was docked in New York. He had grown up in a poor village, with no father, and a mother who could barely provide for him. He had apparently joined the Greek Merchant Marine as a way to escape the grinding poverty of his youth, and he wasn’t going to give up a free ride to America.
According to family lore, after entering in New York, he made his way to Chicago, where he gambled, drank and tom-catted around until, running out of money, he came back to New York. There he met my mother, became a citizen, raised a family of three boys, owned a small business for 40 years or so and passed away in the mid-1980s.
Oh, did I mention that my father hated immigrants?
He once saw some news footage of the Vietnamese boat people who escaped from the aftermath of the Vietnam War in small boats, landing on our shores in California. His comments included suggesting that we had enough immigrants here and that we don’t need any more.
In 1980, I was working for a car dealership in NJ which employed a man who had come to the United States in the manner described above (from Vietnam), and had gone through the work of attaining citizenship. His name was Nguyen Van Tram.
On the day after he finally took his oath of citizenship, we had a party for him at work, to help him celebrate his new identity as a American. On the TV in the break-room was film of the Mariel Boat Lift, where hundreds of Cubans were escaping their island for the same reason that the Vietnamese had left their country-an oppressive government and lack of basic freedom and opportunity.
Nguyen Van Tram, himself a desperate immigrant fewer than 6 years before, looked at the TV and, in the thickest of Vietnamese accents, proclaimed, “We gotta nuf immagrint awredy. We don need no mo’”.
For a nation that prides itself on being a melting pot, we, even those of us who are recent immigrants, for some reason all learn to hate immigrants.
A perfect example of this is the fact that many have been calling on the government to send the surviving Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen immigrant who is responsible for the death of 3 people, including one child, to Guantanamo, labeling him an “enemy combatant”, and not entitled to hear his Miranda warnings. By the way, he became an American citizen in September of 2012.
Yet, for some reason, Timothy McVeigh, the confessed bomber of the Alfred Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995 in which he killed 168 people, including many children, was arrested, tried, found guilty, and put to death by our existing criminal justice system with no complaints about military tribunals and the like.
James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, who killed 12 people in a movie theater, is somehow similarly expected to be tried in American courts, with no one screaming for him to be sent to Guantanamo as an enemy combatant.
We, as a people, are so enamored of ourselves; our specialness, our exceptionalism, our roles as chosen people, that we even place our mass murders, as long as they were born here, above mass murders from other countries!
Walt Kelly, who wrote the “Pogo” comic strip in the 1970s said it best in the strip from Earth Day in 1971, referring to the damage that we were doing to the earth, but it applies here as well. Pogo, looking at the havoc we have wreaked said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
I have no problem with patriotism, but when it extends to killers, I think it’s time to rewind and decide if all objectivity has left the room.