Arizona’s new immigration law has me thinking about my own family, what it means to cross borders and languages and cultures in search of something—a better paying job, a different life, the fulfillment of a promise. My father’s family immigrated to the US from Italy in the 1900’s, and my mother’s family came centuries earlier from England. I don’t really know why either uprooted their lives to try on the United States, but I do know my father suffered from terrible harassment throughout and after World War II because he was Italian, had a clearly recognizable Italian name.
By the time he had me, anti-Italian sentiment had mostly vanished, but he still balked at telling people his heritage. If asked, he would insist he was American. If asked again, he would concede, I’m of Italian extraction. But that was it. He wore American flags on his lapel every day to teach, raised the flag on the Fourth of July, voted in every election. He took being an American seriously—in part because he knew the consequences, how quickly the tide of public sentiment can turn, how quickly he could have found himself targeted for his ethnicity once again, even though he had subsumed the language of his parents to English, even though he spoke proudly of American ideals, bought American cars, wore that lapel pin, even though, even though.
So when I think about immigrating to a new country, a new language, raising children like my father, the man my father became, I feel awe and admiration. How brave you have to be to risk all you know for the shadowy outline of a different life. How much embarrassment you suffer as you struggle through a new language. How much shame you must feel for your “other” status, for your children’s refusal of your “otherness.” How often you must question your decision, wonder if you made the right choice. The risk of immigration, of tearing up all you know for a vast unknown. What a display of hope.
I know there are statistics and arguments on both sides of Arizona’s law, know that many people are passionate about “protecting” the United States from those who were born sometimes only a few miles away. But my family is made up of immigrants, from Italy, from England. And I’m in awe of them. No matter if they moved here legally (and my mother’s family certainly didn’t).
Which brings me to compassion, what happens when a citizenship loses it, when lawmakers lose it. I feel sad for Arizona, for such nearsightedness. But mostly, I feel sad for the people who will be harassed because of this new law, who will feel shame and embarrassment, who will be treated as less than. And I will see my father’s family in their faces.
Andrea Scarpino is the west coast Bureau Chief of POTB. You can visit her at: