New Generation of Immigrants Face Rabid Restrictionism

By Seth Freed Wessler May 02, 2008

While activists and organizers from many of New York City’s immigrant rights organizations blasted over the loudspeakers at yesterday’s May Day rally in Union Square, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my grandmother while visiting her in Massachusetts. As we drove into town to get lunch, my 80-something year old grandmother began telling me about the guided tour of Boston’s Jewish history she had participated in earlier in the year. She grew up in Boston as the child of very new Eastern European Immigrants. They settled in neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester, bought meat from Yentle the Butcher, started a little produce market that sold bread for 9 cents, attended the small community synagogue, called a shul, and thrived in a community of Yiddish speaking Eastern European Jews. The tour took my grandmother back to these places she had not seen for years. “Its different now, but not that different. We went to the shul and it looked great, almost the same, except now it’s a Haitian 7th Day Adventist church. I was so happy to see it look so good.” She went on. “It’s the new generation that’s there now, the new generation of immigrants.” My grandmother’s reaction was a heartening one. So many forget their history and refuse to acknowledge its parallels. Like my family was, those who live in Boston’s immigrant neighborhoods are thriving parts of the city’s cultural, political and economic life. But unlike my family, they face the treacherous collusion of racism and a wave of rabid restrictionism that make the prospect of living safely and comfortably a sometimes impossible challenge. The streets of New York were filled with many of this “new generation” yesterday and the words and chants that flowed over the loudspeakers made clear that the United States is not living up to its promise. We are a country of immigrants but that does not seem to mean much to those making policy because they, unlike my grandmother, seem to forget this past, letting racism and fear overcome it.