Room at the Inn

My Italian family, the Zaccagninis

I live in a busy city in Texas, a border state with Mexico, and I see many refugees where I live. They're often families with children, selling flowers at street corners or asking for money at busy intersections.

My great grandparents were Italian and Polish immigrants. They labored in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and factories of Ohio to give their families a better life. My father's maternal ancestors were Irish immigrants fleeing the famine.

I often wonder what it was like for them, leaving the only world they knew for the hope of a better one. And I wonder what's it like for my new neighbors, and the promise that sent them to Texas.

Life is so complex today, and it's heart breaking when our political differences trump our humanity. We don't have a shared understanding about how we honor each other and live as a shared human family across the divides of cultures, borders and countries. As we live into this understanding, I think it starts with seeing - to truly see each other. And perhaps to offer another a bit of the help that has been given to us.

PS - I just discovered this beautiful song, Refugee, by Laura Baron. The music video is especially touching. You can watch and listen here.

Room at the Inn

"There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americans.” - from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in 1915 *

My great grandfather was a coal miner

in the Pennsylvania mountains. When

the miners went on strike, they didn't eat.

The Red Cross brought my great grandmother

rice and butter which she buried in the yard.

If they'd brought her olive oil and flour

she'd have cooked a feast. At Ellis Island

Zaccagnini become Zack. At the grammar school

Damasiewicz became Demser. At the Ford

Motor Company Poles and Slovaks were told

to abandon their traditional clothing

in a giant pot. They came out reborn,

dressed in suits and carrying American flags.

Today a woman in a worn head scarf and skirt

stands at the stoplight, her daughter in a stroller

beside her. Another daughter hides her face

from the too fast traffic. Between her

broken English and my broken Spanish

we say hello. As I hand her the cash in my wallet

I wonder about the woman who brought

my great grandparents rice. Whatever kindness

was given to them, I pray, shower it on her.

Let her know there is welcome in this land.

* The quote at the beginning of the poem and the story of the melting pot at the Ford plant come from David Dean's essay Roots Deeper than Whiteness. All credit goes to him.

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