Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day
I was chatting with my dad recently about immigration. Primarily about how I ignored his advice to emigrate from the US til it's too late, but also about what brought my great-grandparents to these shores.
Like most immigrants, they were economic refugees.
But here's a twist that finally occurred to me after years of meditating on the nature of western colonialism: My ancestors were fleeing the same influences of colonialism that have been at play in the "New World" since it's "discovery".
Hear me out, and I'm NOT creating any equivalencies here - to be clear, my ancestors were not slaves in the sense of being bought/sold/owned, and nothing that they did have to endure is equal to the suffering of those stolen from homelands to be exploited as free labor, nor is it equal to the holocausts of the 20th century, nor the global holocaust that occurred to indigenous peoples by the Europeans for 400 years+.
My ancestors were peasants. Some were carpenters, loggers, butchers, seamstresses. By the early 20th century none of them were yet property owners. Here's why: after the Great Black Death/Plague, the oligarchs (nobility, church, etc.) in Italy took two approaches to dealing with the subsequent reductions of available cheap labor (because so many died). In the North, where the Renaissance began, laborers were encouraged to learn and ply trades, guilds were strong, and tradesmen were free to move about and go wherever they wanted to work. In the South, laborers were tied to the lands, guilds were discouraged, they weren't free to seek work elsewhere (especially not the North) - they were "locked in" to the old feudal system.
This system remained in effect until WWI, and only started to really disappear after WWII, although in Southern Italy, things have never been as prosperous as in the North. This also led to the rise of criminal syndicates: Cosa Nostra, Mafia, Ndrangheta - because it became nearly impossible to make an honest living.
Back to my ancestors: the reason they left Sicily and southern Italy was, simply put, starvation. Any profits they made from whatever they cut, grew, made, sold went to the local oligarchs. It wasn't even subsistence as there wasn't enough money to feed the whole (large) family and those who were farmers weren't allowed to keep enough of what they grew to survive. Add to that the pressure of criminal gangs extorting anyone they could, and it's not a pretty picture. I think this is why I feel such strong empathy for those coming to the US from central and south America, many of those refugees are coming from no-win-possible situations, and from what my father says (and what my grandparents told me before they died), it's not too far off the mark from what our ancestors endured.
In summary, my ancestors were fleeing the same kind of oppressions that were at the base of the founding of this country, entrenched on one side of the Atlantic and expressed as Colonialism on the other.
I'm so pissed off that they didn't choose Canada...
@laura-f So sorry, but I for one am glad you are here. Your voice has been an important one. I don't have an immigrant story that truly relates to what is happening now. But, it shouldn't take a similar experience to want to help those who are suffering or are desperate. I think that is what the GOP before and since Trump has failed to recognize: We are all ONE. We are all brothers and sisters, and my true belief is that each of us will be judged by how we treat one another. Thank you for posting your story.