In The Time of Our Lives: Collected Writings, Peggy Noonan tells readers about her grandfather and the day he said good-bye to his father in Donegal. His father’s departing words to Ms. Noonan’s grandfather were, “Go now, and never come back to hungry Ireland again.” As Ms. Noonan explains, her grandfather had his struggles in America, but he never went home again.
He’d cast his lot. That’s an important point in the immigration experience, when you cast your lot, when you make your decision. It makes you let go of something. And it makes you hold on to something. The thing you hold on to is the new country. In succeeding generations, the holding on becomes a habit and then a patriotism, a love. You realize America is more than the place where the streets were paved with gold. It has history, meaning, tradition. Suddenly that’s what you treasure.
A problem with the newer immigrants now is that for some it’s no longer necessary to make The Decision. They don’t always have to cast their lot. There are so many ways not to let go of the old country now, from choosing to believe that America is only about money, to technology that encourages you to stay in constant touch with the land you left, to TV stations that broadcast in the old language. If you’re an immigrant now, you don’t have to let go. Which means you don’t have to fully join, to enmesh. Your psychic investment in America doesn’t have to be full. It can be provisional, temporary. Or underdeveloped, or not developed at all.
And this may have implications down the road, and I suspect people whose families have been here a long time are concerned about it. It’s one of the reasons so many Americans want a pause, a stopping of the flow, a time for the new ones to settle down and settle in. It’s why they oppose the mischief of the Masters of the Universe in Washington, who make believe they cannot close our borders while they claim they can competently micromanage all other aspects of immigration.
Over a relaxing three-day New Year’s celebration at my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in Virginia, I read about a third of their copy of Peggy Noonan’s book. Her essays are not only well written, but also reflect a thoughtful, moving, optimistic approach to American life. Dick and I are now driving back to Key West and, thanks to “one-click” Amazon, her book will have arrived before we do. Can’t wait to read more.
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