The fumes from the President’s recent "s---hole" comments are starting to fade, thank God. But as they do, I want to tell you about my family.
In the early 20th century, my maternal grandparents emigrated to New York from Kovna, a shtetl in Lithuania. My grandfather had been apprenticed to a tailor, from whom he acquired skills that would later serve him well.
Back then, Eastern Europe was cruel to members of the Jewish diaspora. Formal education was unavailable, travel was restricted, and government-sponsored pogroms put property and lives in constant danger. My great-grandfather died because he refused to eat pork. Most or all of my relatives who stayed behind were killed in the Holocaust.
After arriving in New York, my grandfather opened a tailor shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he crafted high-end women’s suits. He and my grandmother raised four children- my mother was the youngest. During World War II, on a trip to the Catskills, my mother met my Dad, who was playing saxophone in a jazz band before leaving for boot camp in San Antonio. My Dad was the son of an immigrant from Belarus who ran a pharmacy in East New York.
Just before his company shipped out to Okinawa, my father developed a bleeding ulcer. Before long, he was discharged and returned to New York to study music at NYU on the GI bill. He never made it as a professional musician, but he played the clarinet and bassoon for several amateur orchestras. My Mom taught first and second grade in the New York City public schools. They had four children- I’m number three.
My family’s tale echoes countless immigrant stories. Few immigrants left comfortable lives to come to the U.S. Pursuing the American Dream was as much an escape as it was an opportunity. Consider how difficult it must have been to leave loved ones behind, not speaking English, without money or social support. Far too often, new arrivals were marginalized, insulted, and discriminated against. They endured bigotry, racism, and delusions that they were spreading disease or soiling American purity. These darker chapters of the immigrant story persist today.
Fortunately, the grit immigrants harness to create new lives also helps them surmount these challenges. Our residency testifies to this. Many of us descend from immigrants, including some from ancestors brought against their will. Some of us are immigrants ourselves. We all carry immigrant grit. We cherish the opportunity to contribute. Our diversity promotes creativity and offers fresh perspectives. Our varied backgrounds help us connect with the many newcomers we call our patients.
A good friend reminded me this weekend that we shouldn’t let low comments drag us down. Instead, we need to step over last week’s scatology. Let’s acknowledge that wherever they come from, immigrants carry creativity, energy, and courage in their bags. Their dreams are our dreams, and their destiny is bound to ours. Let’s elevate the conversation. As a wiser, more articulate American politician once said, “E pluribus unum.”
Enjoy your Sunday everyone.