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The Immigrants Democracy

            I wonder what my grandparents thought about when they emigrated from Italy during the first part of the 20th century. I can only imagine the anxiety as they faced so many unknowns. I don’t think they had any philosophical discussions about democracy but I am sure they talked about how much money they would make, where they would live, and what they would eat.


            Maybe they didn’t talk about democracy in so many words but they must have envisioned the concept as hopeful because they were willing to risk everything during the dangerous voyage across the frigid north Atlantic. They certainly were not alone. Immigrants came over in hundreds of ships with names like the Provence, the Madonna, and the Lusitania like metal shavings being attracted to the powerful magnet of democracy. Scores were lost to the weather, hundreds succumbed to disease, and others were torpedoed by the prowling U-boats of the German fleet.


            They came from all over Europe hoping to live under a simple, open, and tolerant form of government. Fathers journeyed first to establish themselves in the logging camps and company houses. After earning passage, they beckoned boatloads of mothers who crossed the sea with children clutching their legs, frightened, and pale with seasickness.


            Together they built America under the watchful eye of democracy while sweating through their shirts in the factories of Chicago and breathing the red ore dust in the deep iron mines of Michigan. Many, like my grandfather, died young and the company gave his widow $50 for burial and a 12-pound ham. Yet, more families arrived to replace the worn out labor and to allow democracy to produce unions, political parties, railroads, electricity, abundant food, and the promised land of prosperity.


            I find the courage of those young people drawn to nothing more than a democratic ideal remarkable. What is even more remarkable is the continuing desire of people from all cultures wanting to participate in American democracy, for a better life, for freedom, and for the American dream.