Such was the tag end of a typical job ad in the early 20th century.  Each arrival group once established seems to produce spokespersons compelled to keep out newer immigrant groups.

I experienced such worlds of prejudice and watched them being gradually dissipated during the second half of the 20th century.  When I started school (as a WASP) in Farmington, Connecticut, the disfavored were mainly the Irish and Italians who attended the local Catholic Church located as they were west of Main St. and towards the river which tended to flood now and again.  The WASPs lived up hill east of Main St. or in comfortable homes in the country side beyond the local golf course and country club (closed membership) to the north.  A few were still pre-Revolutionary War land grant families. Polish Americans farmed out on the flood plains to the west where a major flood from a dam break wiped out much of their working people’s town (Unionville) and threatened their farms.  They also lived in another working people’s city, New Britain, off to south west of Hartford, Connecticut, which, itself, had a small African American ghetto embedded in it from which ladies would commute out to household work — men were not generally welcomed for jobs.

To the north where we spent summers in the North East Kingdom (of Vermont) I encountered further prejudices against “French Canadians” (so called even though Americans) and native Americans.  One of the latter was a playmate — actually only his mother was fully native American — and he taught me such things as how to chop off the head of a chicken being prepared for dinner.  His sister was the first girl who kissed me one sunny afternoon sitting in our hammock when we were about 5 or six — her mother read romance magazines.  One unforgettable afternoon an ancient native American man came by in his birch bark canoe, selling handicrafts.  He kindly showed me how to jump into his canoe, being sure to step only on the ribs so as not to harm the bark.  That started me out with canoe savvy and I eventually taught others how to do it right at a summer camp.  Canoes, if one knows how to handle them, are the safest small boat in rough weather on a lake — one must kneel low on the bottom and then it will ride the waves securely.

One of the positive things of those days was that we were not all locked into class structures that kept us from working with and getting to know other people and their ways of life — this was an American option not open to the Brits, I discovered, while studying and working there during several years of studies both in my teens and later at Oxford.

Perhaps the period just after WW2 was unique as an opening up for us college students particularly.  The returning GI Bill veterans wore khakis — cast castoffs from their uniforms — and so we wore them, too. They had often come from working class backgrounds and we as students tended to seek challenging physical jobs during our summers — a sort of macho thing in those days.  Where did you work this summer?  Did a trip around the world on a tramp steamer.  Worked in the oil fields — will never do that again, it nearly killed me.

Personally my job range with friends from the Ivies and other colleges was extensive.  We worked one summer in construction building homes for factory working families in New Britain.  My co-workers were mainly new immigrants from Poland, learning English.  I got to run a power saw clearing timber for he houses — would prevail with my Polish boss to save some around the edges for shade trees.  Drove the dump truck, did the ditching around the foundations, put up insulating, carpentering and painting stuff.  Very little I did not learn about construction — except my boss wavered about letting me run the bulldozer which I would have much enjoyed.  Worked for a blaster for several weeks, too, laying in trenches to drain a marsh.

Shifting years I took on double jobs one summer — working in New England’s largest scrap metal operation days and in an aircraft plant nights.  Those were the days when one had unlimited energy.  The first job with Suisman and Blumenthal was particularly interesting in that they gave the only decent jobs to African American men in the Hartford area — and sent some off the college (They gave me a grant at the end of the summer to help with my Oxford theological studies).  Thus, I first got to work with people of color — there was still a great distance from African Americans who would eat separately from me and my friends, including a new arrival from the Caribbean.

At the factory job I met traveling workers from all over — a number from Texas for some reason.  They would tell me tales of their oil exploration jobs — one foreman who was giving them a rough time who turned up in a ditch with a knife in his back and no one had seen a thing.  I brushed that off as tall talk until a big guy came at me and accused me of eyeing his wife — there was a small women contingent somewhere in the factory.  I thought he was going to turn me into mince meat when suddenly he backed off and left.  As I turned around I saw my buddies putting their switch blades back in their pockets.

Back to my subject heading above, I find the Republican candidates exploiting anti Latin American prejudices disgusting.  We automatically turn off Lou Dobbs who is one of the most racist commentators to beam out of our TV screens these days.  Looks like he figured a way to tap the embedded racism out there with a smile and support of his sponsors and management — anything to boost the ratings.  Someone should remind him that the Klan was running high in the mid 1920s before it went bust. And while we are at it Klan comes from ‘clan’ which comes from poor Scots who migrated to the South in this country and put up walls against their competitors — Jews, Catholics, and African Americans whom they took great pleasure in murdering in horrendous ways.  Lest we forget, torture is nothing new to this country — burning and maiming were widely practiced less than a century back.  There were picture postcards made of these brutalities that one could purchase in one’s local drug store.  Some readers here probably have some buried in an attic somewhere.  A NYC museum did an exhibit of hundreds of them a few years back — happy people with their little kids on their shoulders smirking over tormented maimed bodies — African Americans — and new immigrant Catholics and Jews!!!

Lest we forget and begin to repeat our past horrors!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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