Originally posted on Neil Steinberg’s blog.
BY NEIL STEINBERG
This is my grandfather, Irwin Bramson. I don’t believe his picture has ever appeared in a newspaper before. He would be delighted to see it here.
My grandfather was not famous, or successful, beyond supporting his family, working in a factory in Cleveland that made machine parts. He eventually owned his own house, on Rossmoor Road in Cleveland Heights. He was very proud of that.
My grandfather was born on a farm in Bialystock Poland, in 1907 and was sent to this country because things were very bad there and he had a relative, a distant cousin in Cleveland who owned an automobile parts factory and would employ him. He left at 16 and never saw any of his family again; they were all murdered, man, woman and child by the Nazis and their henchmen.
When he got here, he no doubt faced the scorn of those who felt that America was being corrupted by racially inferior immigrants such as himself that all manner of subhumans and Jews, were poisoning American blood, that they were constitutionally different and would never fit in.
But he did fit in. He never went to college, but he met my grandmother, got married—they went to the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago on their honeymoon in 1934. They had three daughters, my mother being the eldest. Had they been born in Poland, they all would have been murdered too.
All of my memories of him involve him sitting in a green Barcalounger, watching “The Price Is Right.” He smoked cigarettes and drank bourbon. He sucked Luden’s Cherry Cough drops for his throat—he would die of emphysema in 1981.
He taught me chess. He would give me a dollar if I won and a dollar if I lost. He took me to my first baseball game. There was nothing mean or difficult about him. He did not complain. He asked nothing of anybody. In fact, he rarely spoke. He was a simple man, and I loved him.
Everyone in the United States, unless they are a Native-American, has a person like my grandfather in their past, someone who came over here to escape hardship or horror and make a life. Whether it was 5 or 50 or 500 years ago, the story is the same. They came over and the country let them in.
My grandfather became a citizen, not because he was a genius, not because he was harder working or smarter or better than any Mexican fording the Rio Grande. But because he could back then. There was an Ellis Island and a system that worked. Today Ellis Island is a shrine to ideals that half the country doesn’t believe anymore, who adopt the cruel role of the Americans who harassed their own forebears.
I thought of my grandfather, after I watched Barack Obama’s brief speech Thursday night—lucky I have cable because none of the networks, the supposed mainstream media supposedly in his thrall, bothered to show it. He announced his changes to immigration policy, to allow undocumented immigrants who have been here longer than five years to “get right with the law,” register and not fear deportation.
Before Obama even spoke, the Republicans, who oppose everything the president has done, is doing, or will do, made a show of opposing this too, a rare trifecta blending economic myopia, longterm political suicide, and lack of basic human decency. Only time will tell if they respond by trying to impeach him, shut down the government or some new strategem. The only thing that they are certain not to do is pass the comprehensive immigration reform which, announcing his stopgap, Obama called for.
That this is the right thing, that it is long overdue, that it will help the United States economy, that to do otherwise is cold hypocrisy and a denial of their own family, an insult the memory of my grandfather and theirs and the millions like him, never wrinkles their brow.
My wife and I watched the speech.
“He looks tired, frustrated,” my wife said.
“He’s trying to talk sense to idiots,” I said.
I’m glad I saw the speech, because I was starting to think very little of Obama, just by osmosis, just by living in a country where he is so despised. I wish he had done this three months, six months, a year ago. Not doing so was the kind of small, mean political calculation that has hobbled his presidency. The Democrats got drubbed anyway.
But now I realize, the bottom line with Obama is: he did what he could do. He didn’t waste effort trying the impossible. Even his narrowed options were tough to manage.
The good news is, he’s already won.
As with gay marriage, the notion of no longer keeping millions who came to this country illegally in rightless limbo forever will seem an impossibility until suddenly it doesn’t and everybody wonders what took us so long to do the moral thing. Then the people who are castigating the president now will be hard to find. Cornered, they will shrug off their fanatical opposition to people just like their own grandparents with some easy rationalization. What really struck me about the president’s speech is he could speak the words at all, that he somehow found the stamina to present a cogent argument to rabid enemies who stopped listening long ago. There is a nobility to that.