Just read a wonderfully partisan article in the Chicago Tribune penned by someone who introduces himself as the son of a Greek immigrant. I have seen and heard many people introduce them with that kind of historical reference. This is the first time that I have either spoken or written those words.
I believe the people who say those things believe that it gives them more credibility to describe themselves as someone who came directly from a lower caste and has risen from some sort of disadvantage. I am not of that sort. There are millions of people who are first generation who have succeeded in this country.
Somehow, I have a feeling that there is much more behind a statement of ancestral description. It is closely tied to, “I am a self-made man.” The self-made crowd never seems to refer to anyone who has every helped them get to where they are now The story is usually a depiction of a parent working their fingers to the bone so that their children could have a better life.
The inference therefore is anyone who is not succeeding, or is slothful, or, you should pardon the expression, on welfare, is somehow a lesser person. If I could make it on my own, why can’t you? You must be doing something wrong if this son of an immigrant made it, why can’t you? This is a land of opportunity, home of the free and the brave.
I worked my way through college, either going at night, or had three jobs to make it through. I had the drive and ambition and understanding of what those things mean in a country that gave my dad the freedom to come here and make a life for his family. You should be doing the same thing (they say).
All those things are tough for me to listen to. Now that I live among my age cohorts in a retirement community, I hear that more often than I would like. Most of the time, I keep my mouth shut. Sometimes, I can’t take it anymore. When they start speaking about the old days and how people really worked hard for their pay, I calmly look at them and say, “If you continue to speak of the old days, Friday afternoon will the rubber truck come and take you away.”