I was in Sicily when hundreds of desperate migrants drowned after their smugglers’ boat caught fire and capsized after they left North Africa for the promise of Italy. And when I returned to the comfort and chaos of New York, another decrepit ship sank in the Mediterranean sending scores to their deaths without ever experiencing a day of peace and prosperity.
More than 100 years ago, my maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland, and I recently obtained a copy of my grandfather’s birth certificate, which evidenced poverty because a witness could only sign her name with an X. All whose ancestors voluntarily left Mexico or Poland or China yearned to live where the streets were paved with gold not only for themselves but also, as I was taught, for their children and grandchildren. We cannot overlook, however, those who arrived in chains and were driven not by dreams but by a whip. Theirs is a different story.
So when I hear about those who sneak across the border in the scorching heat or who sail through shark-infested waters to Florida, I think of my grandfather—who died before I was born—shoveling coal to pay for his passage to New York without money or relatives for security. I would have loved to ask whether he was brave or foolish, whether he was frightened or determined when he left home and family never to return.
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