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How Are Things in the Old Country?

Marc Munroe Dion on

Thirty years ago, I was in a garment factory, covering the visit of a Portuguese dignitary who was in the factory because it employed a large number of Portuguese immigrants.

The dignitary approached a short, muscular man who worked in the plant and greeted him smilingly in Portuguese.

The man spat out a single sentence in Portuguese and stalked away.

I was standing next to a Portuguese-speaking city councilor.

"What did that guy say?" I asked the councilor.

"He said he doesn't recognize the government of Portugal," the city councilor said.

The American tradition of immigrating to America and then screwing around with the politics of the old country is long, even if it's not noble.

Irish immigrants to America formed an army in 1870 and raided Canada, striking at the British Empire they hated for its colonization of Ireland.

In 1933, American Jews called for a boycott of German goods and held protest meetings all over the country. The New York City rally was attended by 50,000 people.

In 1936, agents of Adolf Hitler helped form the German American Bund, a German American organization dedicated to getting the Nazis a little clout in America. Banners at their events read "Stop Jewish Domination of America."

An old man I knew told me he remembered people in his Italian American community sending their gold wedding rings to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

 

"Mussolini was going to use the gold to make Italy strong again," the old man told me. "My father and my uncle, they were in The Sons of Italy, they went door-to door in the neighborhood telling the people not to do it, that Mussolini would just steal all the gold."

Nationwide, at least 100,000 gold rings went to Italy. Participants received a steel ring in exchange.

Back when "The Troubles" were very much alive in Northern Ireland, I knew Irish Americans, most of them at least 75 years removed from the emigrant ship, who helped fund The Irish Republican Army. You gave a little money, and the next bomb tossed into a Protestant pub in Belfast was a little bit yours. It was inspiring, and involved no risk to yourself, which is the most popular form of patriotism.

It is not true that only those who fail to remember history will repeat history.

We will all repeat history; the tinpot dictator, the nationalized bigotry, the war's corpses and the legless, armless and blind who come home from the war.

And the newly arrived or first-generation American Palestinians howl "Death to America" in the streets, joined by non-Arabic Americans who have found a new way to make their parents angry.

And the television flogs the living hell out of the story because only a comatose news executive can ignore a "Death to America" chant.

It's all so old. The Old Country hardly ever comes to America with nothing to offer other than pizza and knishes. That's what you have left after the grandkids have intermarried with other ethnicities, and none of them speak Yiddish or Armenian or Czech anymore.

The culture is always ahead of the people who claim to be in charge, but history is ahead and behind all of us, all the time.

To find out more about Marc Dion, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Mean Old Liberal." It is available in paperback from Amazon.com and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.



 

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