Buffalo’s Old West Side and the “City of Good Neighbors”

Sarago maternal grandparents

A recent NYT article is a testament to how one city—Buffalo, NY–has continued to welcome all immigrants and refugees–including my parents and grandparents– since the late 19th century on.

Grandma, dad and his sister.
Grandma, dad and his sister.

Just in the last ten years, Buffalo has placed 10,000 immigrants from the Middle East alone. Before that, the “Old West Side,” a low-income neighborhood near Lake Erie, welcomed thousands of Puerto Ricans to settle here. Going even further back, it took in thousands of Southern Italians, including both my father and my mother’s families.

On the West Side, my maternal grandfather opened an Italian deli where my mother and her brothers all worked together. At the same time, my father found work in the New York Central Rail Yards and supported his family with that job for the rest of his life. Both sides assimilated into the fabric of America, just as the “new arrivals” now are in the process of doing the same.

Mom and dad
Mom and dad

I’m proud to see the “City of Good Neighbors” carry on this tradition of building a bridge of love and acceptance to all comers and hope this is an inspiration to other cities to do the same!

Grazie,

Dan Sarago

Airport Customs experience

Yesterday, returning from Panama, we went through U.S. Customs at the Atlanta airport in order to re-enter the U.S.A. While being directed across a large room to a station, we observed a Homeland Security/Customs agent standing in the center of the room directing travelers as to which way to go. We both noted the agent, a woman, who was wearing a hijab.

Moments later we spoke of this and Margi mentioned that seeing this moved her to tear-up emotionally. My reaction was one of confusion, a feeling of dissonance, like seeing a kangaroo on the street directing traffic. My mind was unable to grasp the image of a Muslim working for U.S. Customs; it just had no frame of reference for me.

Hours later I awoke in the middle of the night with some clarity of this experience. I concluded that either this woman was a Christian, hired by the Customs department, and told to wear a hijab and positioned in a very visible place for all returning U.S. citizens and incoming citizens from other countries to see, as if this would prove that this country is truly the “Land of the Free,” or she was truly a Muslim person who, wittingly or unwittingly, was being used by the government for the same purpose. In each scenario, I am assuming she is a person who is employed out of necessity and is a dedicated employee.

At a time when Muslims are being profiled, discriminated against, and publicly humiliated, I realized that what I felt when seeing this person was a sense of embarrassment and shame for being an American. I wondered, if in the eyes of the non-U.S. citizens and in the eyes of the supporters of this ugly discrimination, I was assumed to be one of the proponents of security walls, immigrant bashing, global warming denial, anti-science, and on and on.

I cannot wait for the pendulum to start swinging again and I will do what I can to speed it along.

-Steven

American values

Let’s support the development of a fair and rational and humanistic approach to immigration–one that reflects good American values!
-Arnie

Flags and colors should not divide our communities

While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Central Mexico I was so lucky to have met many amazing people. I asked several of my friends and coworkers to write out a message that they would like to share, something they would like residents of the United States to know about Mexico and its people. I wanted to take this opportunity to share one of those messages…

“It is sad to see that there still exists racism, the flags and the colors should not divide our towns. You all are always welcome here.”

-Kalyn

NYT: A Surprising Salve for New York’s Beleaguered Cities: Refugees

“While President Trump has cast incoming refugees in a sinister light, the influx into the beleaguered communities along New York’s old Erie Canal has been a surprising salve for decades of dwindling population and opportunity.

The impact has been both low-budget and high-tech: Foreign-born students from countries like Iran have flocked to programs — and paid tuition and fees — at upstate schools offering advanced scientific degrees, while street-level entrepreneurs have started shops offering knickknacks and takeout for curious locals, and exotic staples and calls home for homesick émigrés.

Local businesses have found cheap, willing labor in the rolling stocks of refugees, while resettlement agencies have used federal funding to assist with their assimilation, creating work for everyone from refrigerator sellers to house painters.”

–Read more at New York Times

Back when border crossings were easy

While growing up in San Diego, California in the late 50’s & 60’s, I have fond memories of visiting Tijuana, MX just about every other weekend to visit my Dad’s father – Big Tata.

His sister, brothers and their families would all meet and we would have a great time -me playing hide n’ seek late at night with my many cousins.

I haven’t visited “TJ” in many years but I remember like it was yesterday.

Crossing was a breeze, border guards would just waive you through, no issues, no problems.

In fact, later when I was in my late teens, crammed in a buddy’s car laughing and joking late in the evening, again, they just waived us through.

The times I remember the most were traveling with my family, stopping at my parents’ favorite restaurant “Cocos” to order combination plates, beef burritos with rice and beans. It seemed like a very large place at the time and I have faint memories being able to order and either eating inside the place or in your vehicle!

After we ate, we would ride to a local park where us kids would get Raspados (snow cones) or ice cream which for some strange reason my brother and I called “Nieve” which means snow.

On our way out, I can envision the young street peddlers enticing us to buy ceramic statues, velvet paintings, peanuts and even fireworks. I can still see that young boy with a half carton of “Chiclets” chewing gum looking right at me while I’m thinking he had the best job in the world.

I wish entering and exiting was that carefree and easy nowadays.

-Ronaldo