History of World War Two Told Through Letters
It is a dark time in America. The rays of light come from the organizing, protests, compassion, and vigilant civic engagement happening across the country. For that, my feelings of anger and shame are accompanied by gratitude and inspiration.
Under this president, for whom I have no respect, I’ve thought about what outlets and tools I have to voice my dissent. After months of silence I find myself back at this blog – a place where history continues to prove itself relevant and enlightening. Following a weekend during which people (including those seeking refuge) from a selection of countries were uniformly and unconstitutionally banned from entering the US, I thought that I could bring attention to the utter randomness of nationality and sheer arbitrariness of political borders by re-examining my grandfather’s voyage to the United States in 1929. My cousin, Elena (a writer in her own right), recently shared the manifest from the ship, the USS Aquitania, on which Alex came over at 17 years old – with his mother, Paulina, and his sister, Serena.
In the manifest, Alex, his mother and his sister are all listed as reading Hungarian but Alex’s nationality is listed as Italian and his “race or people” is Magyar (Hungarian). However, Alex did not have an Italian passport, he traveled with one from Czechoslovakia because the town of Fiume and the are he was born in was constantly changing hands as borders shifted after WWI. Still, although he is listed here as Italian, my father, brother and I have never gotten Italian citizenship that descendants might be afforded, because of this lack of passport. I parse this out because it highlights the arbitrary nature of national borders. This paperwork tells only a partial story. In fact, it tells a misleading one. The idea of nationality has and continues to be used as a cover for extreme, government sanctioned racism.
I’ll keep this post to this narrow and personal example and try not to wander too far beyond the original parameters and objectives of this blog. But my heart is broken for people being turned away at this country’s airports today. For immigrants (of whatever legal status) being cut off from their families through no fault of their own. For people watching a wall literally and symbolically get built between their homes and the homes they left behind.
I urge anyone reading this to consider the tangible and horrendous ramifications of the policies of this new administration and speak up. Speak up because (and while) you can. Speak up because you must. Speak up for those who cannot speak right now, for those who are not afforded the privileges of US citizenship, or whiteness, or any of the advantages that might allow you to turn your back and avert your eyes. Recognize your privilege and work to dismantle it (I borrow that sentence from many others). Of course, this is hard work and self-care is important – I am averse to confrontation, get social anxiety and I know life is busy and complicated – so I say this to myself as well, push yourself to do more.