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Thursday, 8.19.04: World Immigrants Day

Originally written in August 2000: a writing collaborative exercise proposing a big August holiday.

World Immigrants Day
Veni, Vidi, Velcro
(I came, I saw, I stuck around)

Summers in the U.S.A. are punctuated by patriotic holidays. Memorial Day (for the war dead) is the big capital letter that starts off the summer sentence on the last Monday in May. Independence Day on July 4 is the semicolon separating the active early summer from the deep lazy summer, which comes to a screeching halt on the first Monday of September, Labor Day. Period.

August needs a planetary holiday. The World needs a planetary holiday. Something that can be celebrated as easily by summer-lazy Northern-Hemispherians as by winter-bound Southern-Hemispherians. Something non-Christians donít have to grit their teeth over.

Of course, itís impossible to find something that everyone is universally joyous about, so itís better to find something that can be interpreted in different ways by different peoples Ė something that can be used to build appreciation for one another. Thus: World Immigrants Day.

(Oh sure, the Palestinians will whine about Jewish immigrants. But take a day off, fellas. Let your kids hear about the Diaspora and the Holocaust for an hour, then look into your own immigrant past.)

The holiday would be richer, I think, if we allowed it to be bittersweet. Those who Got Immigrated would be first in line Ė victims of the slave trade and deported prisoners. Political, economic, and religious refugees would have their turn to lament the tearing out of their roots.

Whatever the circumstances, the strength and fortitude of newcomers canít be denied. They are resented and despised. They upset the status quo. They compete for resources. Often, they can only look forward to their grandchildren enjoying the fruits of their courage.

For those driven to intellectualize everything (and those who have to produce the dayís public radio programs), we can try to imagine a world where everyone stayed home or moved only into territory not already occupied by humans. Peaceful? Boring? Inbred and disease-ridden?

For those who just want to have fun: scrapbooks and pilgrimages to the old immigrant neighborhoods or other history-steeped shrine. (My mother found the log cabin built by her great-great grandfather, a potato-famine refugee, who somehow found himself in Missouri. Every summer she manages to drop by to visit the woman who has restored it.)

In addition to the de rigeur ethnic festivals, I also propose bead exchanges. The bead is a great symbol for trade and the restless spirit. (Think of traditional Tibetan necklaces: a hundred years ago they managed to get not only Chinese turquoise but also Baltic amber and Mediterranean coral.) People would prepare for the day by making or collecting beads that symbolize the immigrant group that they identify with most, then trade them away on Immigrants Day, to end the celebrations draped in fabulous ropes of beads.

A special case are people who were adopted at an early age. They can consider themselves immigrants, a special class of refugee, making their way in a world that is never quite an easy fit for them, allowing themselves a bit of nostalgia for a genetic community that had to say goodbye.

My only rule: The day canít be used as an excuse to stoke hatred (hear that, Miami?). No fighting. No killing.



more on EXIT theme

Photo: My grandmother Bridget Dunne, shortly after she immigrated from Ireland, in 1914.