Last Saturday Evening, my wife and I took a break and watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is a movie from the late 40′s that was given to us by friends. Neither of us had ever seen it. We both enjoyed it and it made us think of times gone by.
Most striking to me was the hard-working Italian immigrant family that was able to move out of their tenement apartment into a new home of their own. It made me think about the Italians and the Germans and Poles, etc. who immigrated here 100 years ago. Most are today part of the society just like those who came over on the Mayflower. They have no distinct disadvantages or, for that matter, advantages in making their way in American Life.
When they arrived, they did not speak English. They did not know our customs. Their clothes were different. But, they knew that they needed to learn our language and customs if they were to fully enjoy the freedoms of this nation. To my knowledge, there were no ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. Ballots were printed in English since to become a citizen one was required to have a working knowledge of our official language. The immigrants learned the language and our customs. They had to.
Unlike our government today, in the last century (at least the first half of it) our government treated immigrants like normal people. If they were good and/or talented workers, they could get and hold a job. They paid taxes and obeyed the same laws as everyone else. Special programs to assist with food, transportation, education, health care, etc. did not exist. All members of our society were free and independent to do what they thought was best for them, within the laws of the land. Most chose to learn the English Language. Most took whatever jobs they could get until they could find something better. They saved and planned and made a better life for themselves than the lives they left in Europe or Asia or Africa. It wasn’t easy, but they were better for effort.
Somehow, they managed to survive and thrive and integrate into the American society. Doesn’t that indicate that we don’t “Need” all the government programs that we now have? Is it not possible that we are actually taking away incentives to integrate into our society and making it a slower, longer process for immigrants? Couldn’t we spend our tax dollars more effectively? Or at least overspend our income a bit less?
I also really liked the welcome that was given to the Martinis by Mary and George Bailey. they gave them a loaf of bread, so they will never know hunger, salt so that life will always have flavour and wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Nice. Can’t recall welcoming any new neighbors that way (but we do give them a bottle of our wine).