An Immigrant Heritage

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If I’m given the chance, I’m unsure if I would vote for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for president. I don’t know enough about his politics. They seem deeply conservative, and I’m annoyingly moderate.

He seemed to say some stuff many here in the U.K. disagreed strongly with when he visited recently. However, I am willing to hear more from him. I’m always willing to listen to every reasonable candidate of any major party, and as a governor that by definition makes him “reasonable.”

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

A separate – and disturbing – issue has been the mockery directed at him on social media (and even in some U.S. mainstream media) for his apparently not being “Indian enough” or even attempting to be “white.”

It led me to recall my own family’s story. Jindal is essentially the equivalent of my grandfather. His parents were Italian immigrants to the U.S. in the early 1890s. Born in New York in 1912, he was given an “American” – not an Italian – first name by his parents. He would eventually speak little Italian, knowing only enough to communicate with those parents, and by the time I was honored to know him for the first 14 years of my life, he could pretty much just say “Buongiorno” and a few other phrases (or that was what he deliterately conveyed to me, anyway).

He married my future grandmother, a woman also born in New York of Italian immigrants. However, she spoke much better Italian than he did. Also somewhat different, she had had an “Italian” first name; but in her teens she had “Americanized” it out “on the street,” so while she was never anything but “Grandma” to us youngsters, we also never knew her as having really had an “Italian” first name.

At age 17, she had seen him, then 23, playing minor league baseball. In the mid-1930s, it didn’t get more “American” than baseball. Immigrants and their U.S.-born children had embraced it fervently as defining “Americanism.”

And long before anyone had coined the term “WAGS,” she had sought him out after a game and they ended up seeing each other. She once told me she had been sure he would play for the Boston Red Sox, and become a major league pitching star. Well, that never quite worked out, but they still had what to me, as a grandson, seemed a good lifetime together.

As a personal tribute, I’ve fictionalized her (and memories of him), in the novels:

James’s grandma had heard about Isabelle from Bill. After the Newport visit, he had been on the phone to his mother hyperventilating over this Italian-speaking, French girl. Grandma Lombardi was now impatient to meet her.

James ushered Isabelle in first. With several beautiful prints of medieval Japanese women decorating the entrance hall, Isabelle noticed his grandma appreciated Japanese art. Maki would be impressed, she thought.

Isabelle admired the grandfather clock also. She did not yet know James’s grandpa’s clock had held pride of place in the house in Queens for nearly two decades before his death. It was keeping time now in this Long Island condo he never lived to see. Its rich chimes reminded his family of him.

Were they “Italian enough” for real Italians in Italy in the 1930s? Probably not. But that question itself during their lifetimes was, and is looking back from today (long after their deaths), a non-sequitur and, indeed, fundamentally irrelevant. Because they were NOT Italians, they were Americans.

Jindal was born in the United States as they were. Birth in the U.S. means (to us, as Americans – well, it seems, to most of us anyway), that he is not an Indian, nor “of India.” He is an American – born among us, and one of us.

Free Stock Photo: Closeup of a United States flag.
Free Stock Photo: Closeup of a United States flag.

If he wins the Republican nomination, I will vote for one Gov. Bobby Jindal, or not, based on what he tells us he wishes to do if elected to the office first occupied by George Washington in 1789. Yes, no doubt there will be some who will have trouble seeing beyond where his parents were born, including some in his parents’ homeland; but that’s their problem, not his. In the overarching scheme of “Americanness,” it’s not about where your parents were born, it’s about your embrace of the United States where YOU were born.

Have a good Friday, wherever you are. The weekend’s almost here! 🙂

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