Fort Myers Florida Weekly

The immigrant river




We arrive this week in a brand spanking new immigrant year.

But so is every American year an immigrant year, and for that matter every century and millennium in the civilization we inhabit. We date back to before the Greek storyteller Homer gave us “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad” around 700 BC, and before the earliest of the Old Testament biblical stories appeared, about 1200 BC.

Immigrant years flood the great river valley of our civilization. They spring from the Old Testament time into centuries of Greeks and Romans, people like Aristotle, Plato, Virgil and Marcus Aurelius. They cascade through the Roman time of Jesus and the later creation of The New Testament, before flowing into the Middle Ages. They splash through the histories of the Renaissance and finally through the lives of modern-world shapeshifters like the 17th century thinker John Locke, and the Americans Thomas Jefferson (died 1826) and James Madison (died 1836).

The immigrant river is sluicing through our current moment, too — the years 2020 and 2021.

Now, some or all of us are about to be saved by immigrants (probably not for the first time). Not American immigrants in this case, but Turkish immigrants to Germany.

Two medical doctors and scientists, a married couple, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, used their German firm BioNTech to set the world speed record for finding, producing, getting approved, and beginning to distribute a vaccine proven to hamper or halt the spread of coronavirus.

They did it in 11 months (another medical research outfit, Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., has done it almost as quickly).

Now in their mid-50s, one was born in Turkey and one in Germany of Turkish parents. Both were educated in Germany.

Historically, vaccines for such devastating diseases as smallpox, hepatitis, polio and others all have required many years to discover, manufacture and get to people.

Not on this occasion, which is likely worth countless lives.

Drs. Sahin and Türeci worked from their laboratory in Mainz, a German city where they live a few blocks away in relative modesty, according to news reports. Their possessions include one child and no car. Now among the 10 richest people in Germany, they don’t seem to mind.

They bicycle to work.

I mention this because immigrants have always suffered — have always been mistreated by some (not all) in our civilization. That’s true in our country, and it’s true of Turkish immigrants to Germany, as well.

Turks seeking jobs and better lives have arrived in Germany in numbers since the 1960s, less than two decades after World War II when Germans generally killed anybody who didn’t look or act like them.

While Turkish immigrants have done a lot of menial jobs in Germany, some Germans have committed acts of violence against them, threatening their lives and slandering their religions, underpaying them, or treating them otherwise poorly (the tensions continue to exist).

But in other cases Turks have become educated and been adopted as part of the German culture, fortunately for all of us now.

I went through the airport at Frankfurt, Germany once several years before 9/11, on the way back to Florida from Istanbul. In Frankfurt, the passengers disembarked and filed into a big hall, where our German airline hosts had provided long tables of goodies for us to eat and drink, at no cost. To get there, we filed into a security line manned by crew-cut inspectors in uniforms carrying handguns. They were pleasant to me, and to other Western Europeans in the line, as far as I could see. But every Turkish male got pulled out of line and treated like an intruder, as I viewed it.

Throughout the three millennia of our Western Civilization, many immigrants in all our cultures were slaves, a fact finally and permanently altered by do-gooders on each side of the Atlantic. A bloody civil war here beginning early in the second half of the 19th century finally put an end to it.

Between 1620 and 1860, 600,000 unwilling immigrants — slaves — arrived in the United States. By 1860, the U.S. Census recorded 3,952,762 men, women or children of immigrant histories who could be bought or sold, all of them Black.

But in America, everybody else arriving from 1620 on was an immigrant, too, most of them the most willing, hopeful immigrants in the world, mistreated once they arrived, or not.

And now every single person of European descent, Asian descent, African descent or any other descent that isn’t Native American — Martian, for example, because we seem to have plenty of aliens among us — springs from immigrants, unwilling or willing.

That makes the U.S. unique. There’s never been another place like it in the history of the planet, arguably the first great experiment in immigrant living on a large scale ever undertaken.

The U.S. is all immigrant muscle. Our weakest comportment comes from those who try to distance themselves the most from an immigrant world — from the immigrant river, from an immigrant year, from any one of the 3,000 or so immigrant years before 2021.

Cut off the immigrants and they can’t care for you, cook for you or harvest your tomatoes and citrus. They can’t lay down your new roofs, build your new houses, pick up your garbage or recyclables, clean your motel bathrooms, or wash your restaurant dishes. They can’t give you great art in painting, music or literature, they can’t educate you, they can’t step into your military uniforms and defend you.

And no matter where you live or where they come from, cut them off or treat them badly, either one, and they can’t save you from a pandemic. ¦

One response to “The immigrant river”

  1. Hamilton Agnew says:

    It continually surprises me that mankind harbors such fear and hatred of other humans. We judge by superficial characteristics before aptitudes. This is exacerbated by religious tenets and biases. Steve Allen said: “If there is a God, the phrase that must disgust him is – holy war.

    And now for something completely different. It’s called the Cosmic Eye…. a three minute view of the universe and how small we really are.

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