Friday, March 30, 2007

bread givers

Anzia Yezierska's autobiographical novel Bread Givers (1925) is the story of Sara Smolinsky, a young Polish Jew whose family immigrates to America and settles in the Hester Street district of New York City. Sara's father, Reb, is a deeply religious, patriarchal, and despotic man who tears his family apart through a series of disastrous arranged marriages and shoddy business deals. Sara resists her father's authority, works at a laundromat to pay her way through college, and eventually becomes a schoolteacher. Despite her troubles, Sara finds America to be a place of opportunity, and through great determination and perseverence, she succeeds.

I see this spirit of determination in the immigrants I know here in Reno. There's Francisco, the custodian in my building, who is always here when I come at odd hours to work in my office or pick up a book I've forgotten. He never fails to smile and ask me how I am. There's Delmi in the cafeteria, who cheerfully runs the cash register while her co-workers stand aside and gossip. There's Daniel in the foreign languages department, who has been extremely generous with his time in suggesting books for my research.

All these people are first-generation Mexican immigrants. Every time I hear some right-wing radio host, or some television pundit, going on about how lazy Mexicans are, or how they refuse to speak English, or how they don't want to assimilate, or how they reject American values, I want to scream. The immigrants I know don't fit these stereotypes at all; they love America more than many white Americans do. They understand the American Dream. They work hard. They value American ideals of liberty, justice, and equal rights under the law. So foolish, to imagine that we ought to build a 2000-mile wall to keep them out.

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