Letter: Thanking Patricia Chadwick

To the Editor,

I thank Patricia A. Chadwick for her courageous editorial titled “Our Immigrant Heritage, Let It Not Die”.

I read in her piece of the harrowing first generation immigrant experience that colored the immigration of the turn of the century; of lives tainted by the shameful public policy that I would call “Eugenics”. A policy that cast immigrants — by virtue of their ethnicity — into categories of people incapable of intellectual learning.

While this experience should see nothing possibly beneath it, I’m afraid there was a “very — very — bottom of the ladder” in America populated by Africans who were slaves.

For centuries, being caught reading meant the loss of the hand holding the book by amputation with a crude instrument or an eye plucked out; all, needless to say without the benefit of anesthesia.

At the end of the civil war, a proposal was mooted to give each and every African American family 40 acres and a mule as compensation for their centuries of slavery.

While this proposal was being put forward, if you were White and willing to risk the dangers of the Westwards expansion you could obtain a free (or almost free) land grant for 20,000 acres.

My maternal family is a mere three generations deep in America, my grandmother and her sisters arriving in the early 1950’s to take advantage of the need for skilled and semi-skilled labor (my grandmother was a nurse and one of her sisters operated a hair salon in Brooklyn for over 40 years), and another sister rose to be head of housekeeping at a major hotel in the city.

On my father’s side I’m a first generation immigrant, and the beneficiary of a State of California subsidized education.

We all stand on the backs of wealth created by slave labor, and also the agitation of African Americans and other people of color that saw us enjoy these state subsidized educations; I don’t forget it and I don’t let my children forget it either.

Cash isn’t king in the reparations game, but education and property is; if we can only get out of the denial game we can see our way through to this.

Little Italy’s ethnic Italian presence today is in Community Clubs etc., the former residents having done what the former black residents of South Central L.A. have done  which is manage to grab a piece of the American Dream and manage to move on.

The more disadvantaged people we offer these opportunities to, the opportunity to take out a loan on a starter home and send a kid to college etc.; the opportunity to attend college for free etc., the better off we’ll all be.

Reggie Akpata
Old Greenwich

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