Archive for the January 2006 Category


Advancing age seems to have done considerable violence to my memory. From the time I started to school, it was my belief, which I thought was shared by all other Americans, that this was a nation of immigrants. As it turns out now, people who seek asylum in this country are more often regarded as terrorists, rather than somebody who can contribute to our well being.

The mood in Washington these days, and in the no-nothing branches of our electorate, seems to reflect antipathy toward every person who wishes to come to this country. This flies into the face of what this old essayist always believed. It had been my view that even the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, if you go far enough back, came into this country as immigrants. In my case, my immigrant ancestors came to this country because, as the Brits would say, we were “stahving” at home due to the Irish Famine of 1845-1855. Starvation was a real motivator for many of our ancestors, and it continues to be so to this day in much of the rest of the world.

Unhappily, the mood in Washington is to sponsor vigilantes to patrol our borders, aimed particularly at keeping out immigrants from Mexico and Central America. There is even a preposterous proposal to build a fence from the Pacific Ocean all the way east through Texas to keep the immigrants out. Remember the Berlin Wall? Unfortunately, some of those immigrants are desired by the vigilantes who want to offer them below average wages to do their grunt work. The proposed area of the fence is now policed by vigilantes wearing cowboy hats, radio telephones, spy glasses and binoculars.

When an “immigrant-terrorist” is sighted, the vigilantes man their heavy duty SUV’s and talk to their headquarters on their high-powered field telephones to report finding another potential terrorist invading our sacred soil. More often than not, when they reach him, they will find him dying of thirst, heat, dehydration and exhaustion. What he is doing here is not a function of terrorism, he is simply looking to find a job to support himself and his family. Even our uptight British friends would say that these are not terrorists, but are people who are indeed stahving at home in Mexico and Central America.

The point in this essay, aside from the attitude in Washington, is that our current hometown of Millburn, New Jersey, would seem to be a beehive of immigrant terrorists, each of whom has a story to tell you about how he got here. For example, if you start at the western edge of Millburn, there is a Kings grocery store. A few years ago, I fainted in that grocery store largely due to the absence of a pacemaker. One of the people who attended to me and helped to revive me was an immigrant from Jordan named Hassan Khalid. For several years, Hassan and I have been friends. Last year when Ramadan occurred, I shook hands with him and wished him a happy Ramadan. He told me that mine was the only expression for him to enjoy Ramadan that he had received and that he appreciated it very greatly. I trust Hassan who gives me samples of apples and other fruit as I walk through the place. Hassan is an Arab, of course, but as far as I can tell, he is no terrorist of any kind. He is just a nice man who came here because he could not earn enough in Jordan to support himself and a family that he hopes to acquire sometime down the road. So Hassan is one of those people who read the Koran, but who is a man who contributes to the idea that we are a nation of immigrants. It is not just European immigrants, that phrase also includes Arabs as well.

Moving eastward in Millburn, we come to a well known restaurant named Basilico. Its owners are two people from Imperia, Italy, by the Ligurian Sea, who attended cooking school together and who came to this country sometime around 1985. As they prospered, they took over a hardware store, formerly run by Harvey J. Tiger, and established an Italian restaurant which has always appeared to us to be of excellent quality. The owners, Mario DeMarco and Angelo Delbecci, are immigrants and they wouldn’t have any idea of what to do if somebody dubbed them as terrorists. Those two fellows would retire to their kitchen and arm themselves with wooden spoons rather than with rifles.

Angelo and Mario, in keeping with the tradition of immigrants, have hired other immigrants, in this case, from Ecuador. Most of the people who work for them, and I would assume that it is now close to 15 or 20, come from Cuenca, a town west of Quito, in Ecuador. Their service is impeccable, and they are fully employed, and as far as I can tell, not a single one of them has ever given thought to being a terrorist. They are simply hard working people, thousands of miles from home, trying to earn a few bucks to send to their wives and parents so that they may prosper also. Some of them have already started families here.

Since my blindness, the two headwaiters, Caesar and Jesus, have made special efforts to prepare my food so that it can be eaten easily, which I appreciate greatly. This is Italian food prepared by Ecuadorians and eaten by an Irish-American. Isn’t that what July 4th is all about?

Angelo and Mario and the Ecuadorians pay their taxes, and are ideal citizens. If someone is looking for a terrorist, he would be well advised to steer clear of the restaurant Basilico. And everyone who works at that restaurant has a story to tell about leaving home and coming to this country to find work and to prosper.

Going eastward a mile or so, we come to the Whole Foods Market. There the produce department and the fish department are peopled largely by men who have come here from somewhere else. For example, the senior produce worker is a fellow named Gregorio Russo, a native of Italy. Gregorio has been here so long that he has actually done time in the American Army during the Vietnam War. Next to Gregorio’s stand in the market is a Jamaican fellow named Paul Bywater. Paul is a fellow who thinks that Amazing Grace is the finest hymn that he can think of because it reminds him of his mother. I have told Paul that it would have been a fine thought for his mother and my mother to meet and to sing Amazing Grace together. Paul just wants to get along in this life and he is a simple immigrant who has no thoughts about terrorism and who is a cheerful fellow.

A close friend of Paul is Garth, another hard working fellow who handles at least two jobs that I know of. He is a Jamaican, as is my good friend Owen. Owen has a goatee and he is a hulking sort of figure that might give you some thoughts about avoiding him on a dark night. Owen, quite to the contrary, is a gentle, gentle person. He is a Jamaican and he has no ideas about terrorism. All three of these Jamaicans came here to work, pay taxes and to prosper. None of them has ever given terrorism a single thought.

For quite a while, the boss in the produce department was a gentleman named Maurice. When I asked Maurice where he was from, he said, “From the Bronx.” I told Maurice that was silly; where were you before you ever got to the Bronx? He said, “You wouldn’t know anything about it, I am from Guyana.” I replied, “From Georgetown?” Maurice bubbled all over. He said, “How do you know about Georgetown? That’s my hometown.” I told him that as a soldier in 1944 and 1945, I passed through Georgetown on three occasions, so I know a little bit about it.

One of the reasons Maurice was taken back was when I told him that the barracks for the enlisted men at Georgetown was populated largely by lizards. Everyone slept under mosquito netting in that transient barracks. The lizards would crawl around on the rafters near the roof and seemed to bother no one, except seeing them kind of gave people an uneasy feeling. On a rare occasion, a lizard would lose his footing and fall on top of the netting which covered the American soldier. That resulted in some pandemonium. I reminded Mr. Maurice that Guyana was a new name. When I was there, it was called British Guyana. Now they have run the Brits off, so it is simply Guyana.

Moving from the produce department, there is a fellow named Michael who takes care of nuts and seeds and all that sort of thing. Michael is a very gentle fellow who comes from Accra, Ghana. Moving a few feet further into the fish department, we run into Daniel Commodore, also an immigrant from Accra.

As it turns out, my overseas military service ended with a tour in Ghana which was then known as the Gold Coast. There wasn’t a lot of gold in the Gold Coast, the gold was slaves. West of Accra is a port called Takorodi. That is where the slaves were taken, beaten, handcuffed and loaded onto slave ships headed for the United States as well as to Arab lands.

When my service took place in 1944 and 1945 in the Gold Coast, the Brits were very, very firmly in charge. They required every black man to refer to every white man as “Master.” I asked Daniel if he remembered such a formality. Daniel said that he did not, but his father certainly did. The Brits, for all of their genteelness, were very rough conquerors, and that’s what they were in British West Africa. But Michael and Daniel have no thought other than making a living as opposed to any idea of terrorism. They just want to get along.

There are two other immigrants who deserve attention at the Whole Foods Market. One is Carmen from Bogotá, Columbia, and César from Lima, Peru. They speak limited English, but it is clear they have a story to tell and it is not about terrorism.

Until her recent promotion, Carmen toured the store with her broom and dustpan to keep it tidy. Cesar is an elegant gentleman who chases grocery carts and also bags groceries. These appear to be humble jobs, but apparently, they are better than what they could get in their home countries.

Now in addition to the people from Ghana and Jamaica and all those other places, there are two other fellows that need mention here. One is Tariq, who became the father of twins a year ago and Larry, a gentle fellow who never fails to greet me when I enter the store. I expect that Larry and Tariq are the sons of immigrants too, in that their ancestors were slaves, perhaps from the Gold Coast.

And now we come to our friends from Costa Rica. Antonia Salazar cuts our grass in the summer and plows our snow in the winter. In the meantime, Antonio constructs brick flower boxes around our trees which are most attractive. Jenny, another Costa Rican, takes care of cleaning the house. They are both raising their families in this country. Their ambitions for their children are identical to the ambitions for native born Americans, namely to see that their children are well educated and placed in a position to succeed in life. It strikes me that Costa Ricans are the hardest working people of any immigrant group with which I am familiar. They work hard and they seem to be honest. So I salute them. And as far as I can tell, you won’t find a single terrorist in the whole population of the Costa Ricans in New Jersey.

It is clear that the anti-immigration mood that prevails in Washington, is slightly out of kilter.

All things considered, with all of the immigrants, good old Millburn must be the terrorist capital of the United States. We could use some of those spy hunters with their SUV’s, and their big floppy hats to question these fellows as to their terrorist intentions.

So as you see, everyone has a story. It is clear that these people came here in the hope that they could do better here than they could do in their own homelands. They are no different from the Mexicans who are trying to cross our borders simply to improve their lot in life. That is precisely the reason that my ancestors came to this country. At least with the starvation and the famine in Ireland, they came to this country in the hope that they could care for their families. That is what Ellis Island is all about. And that is what we are known as, a nation of immigrants. All things considered, I welcome immigration because it brings new blood into this country which could prove quite vibrant. I am not fearful of terrorists at every turn. I’ve long since passed that point and think everyone else should also.

The point in this essay is that “Everybody Has a Story.” I am happy to learn of those stories because they are interesting on one hand, and inspirational on the other. A man who leaves home for the purpose of improving his lot in life and for his family, is in my estimation a hero.

The name of this essay is “Everybody Has A Story.” Indeed the refugees who came to Millburn have those stories. Their native language ranges from Arabic in Jordan, to the Ga language in Ghana. It includes the Spanish and the Italian languages. And finally, those stories may be told in the lilting accents of Jamaica and British Guyana. All of these refugees who found a place in Millburn have a story to tell and absolutely none of it embraces terrorist activities.

January 13, 2006
Essay 176
Kevin’s commentary: I’m a little bit ashamed now that I grew up near a grocery store and knew the names of nobody there. It’s funny though that just today, my little brother was in Istanbul and posted a picture on Facebook of himself and some waiters who took so much of a liking to him that they asked the chef to bake him a special loaf of bread with his name on it. Jack makes friends everywhere he goes, as does Pop. I think it’s a respectable quality to have.

I would take the essay one step further and contend that not only are most immigrants AS patriotic and well-behaved as your average American, they are often MORE patriotic and well-behaved. I think of it like this: When I went to high school at Westlake in Austin, I never gave one shit about the sports there. Sports weren’t interesting to me at all and going to Westlake was 100% a function of where my parents had decided to live. However, when I applied to Northwestern and went to live in Evanston, I found myself caring much more about the fortunes of the University’s teams — because I had chosen them. Every immigrant who comes here seeking citizenship has CHOSEN the US out of hundreds of other countries and taken a big gamble on this country. That isn’t true for native residents. It truly is a shame that these guys get the short end of the stick so often.