Joseph Sabino Mistick: Hard work no longer enough to make it in America
When Luigi Sabino left Treglia, a tiny farming village in the hills outside of Caserta, Italy, he was 17 years old. Somehow he gained passage on the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II and made it to America.
The Sabinos were farmers, but in Southern Italy in the late 19th century, families were large and plots were small — the wrong formula if everyone was to eat.
When he settled in Braddock, Luigi started at the bottom at the Edgar Thomson Works, eventually making foreman of the Italians. It was dangerous, backbreaking work, but he did it happily. Hard work was the only currency he could offer, so that was his stake in his deal with America.
But working hard is officially no longer enough to make it here. Acting Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli has declared that the Trump administration wants only those immigrants who have a few bucks in their pocket, only those who do not need a helping hand.
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge” was Cuccinelli’s proposed change to the Emma Lazarus poem at the Statue of Liberty.
If you’re wondering where a guy named Cuccinelli gets off denying the promise of America to anyone, you’re not alone. The arrogance or ignorance of those who want to deny today’s struggling families the same chances their own families received here is staggering.
Genealogist Jennifer Mendelsohn started Resistance Genealogy in response to those public figures who trade on denouncing immigrants. She researches and produces histories of the critics’ families that turn out to be just like the stories of those families they now want to bar.
As Mendelsohn told The Washington Post, whether you are Cuccinelli, Rep. Steve King or Tucker Carlson of Fox News, everyone’s American story goes back “to a boat.” Their families came here for the same opportunity that refugee families now seek in America.
Pittsburgh-based genealogist Rich Venezia realizes that there may be a “gotcha” aspect of this research, but that’s not the real point.
“It’s about finding empathy in everybody’s American family story, finding the common thread that runs through all Americans whose families have come from someplace else,” he says.
And for those who proudly proclaim that their ancestors obeyed all the laws to get here, think again. Once they had abandoned the only homes they ever knew, they would never let a bureaucracy stop them.
Luigi’s family came to know that he had cut a few corners on his citizenship application, but they flourished in America through sacrifice — building and fighting for their country.
At the beginning of World War II, as Luigi lay dying in Braddock, his youngest son Joseph was preparing to ship out for the Pacific from a California naval station. He received a telegram from a family aid agency, summoning him home. It broke Joseph’s heart to not return home, but he left for war, as his father would have wanted.
Joseph carried that telegram with him through the horrors of battle. When he died at the VA hospital 10 years later, a disabled veteran, he left that telegram for his own son. He had done his duty for his country.
The Sabinos were Americans.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].