By now, you’ve probably seen that TV ad featuring Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron “Conservative Warrior” DeSantis exhorting his toddler daughter to “build the wall” with her cardboard blocks.
The ad, which plays more like a derisive parody of a political ad than a real one, is supposed to convey the message to Republican primary voters that DeSantis, a U.S. congressman from North Florida, is the candidate that will cling to whatever President Donald Trump says.
For DeSantis, part of being the remora to Trump’s shark, means he has made a full embrace of Trump’s hard-line views on immigration — which includes being against forms of legal immigration too.
Here’s a taste of DeSantis from an interview earlier this year on the Fox Business channel:
“This idea of having a diversity visa lottery where it’s not based on merit but just random countries are entitled to visas, that’s not the best way to make America competitive in the 21st century. I believe that we need to move to a merit-based system.
“So I think the president is right on that. And then in terms of things like chain migration, I think it’s a similar problem where someone may come in based on merit but then you have these extended family that are more family-based rather than skills-based,” DeSantis continued. “So, I think the President should hold firm on demanding the end of the diversity lottery, the end of chain migration and the border wall so that we can stop the problem of the illegal immigration.”
DeSantis, like me, is American by virtue of what he calls “chain migration.” We both have Italian ancestors who arrived in America while being unskilled and illiterate in English. They didn’t have permission to come here. They didn’t get selected by merit. They just followed other relatives who were already here, making a long sea journey on a ship that docked on New York’s Ellis Island near beginning of the last century.
No visas. No lottery. No problem. That’s our American roots.
But maybe DeSantis forgot his. Or never bothered to know. But he can’t use that as an excuse anymore.
Megan Smolenyak, 57, of St. Petersburg, is a professional genealogist. She’s the author of several books on genealogy and a consultant on the family history NBC-TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Lately, professional genealogists like herself, have amused themselves by researching the family trees of America’s latest batch of immigration zealots.
“I’ve found that a lot of people who have a slam-the-door mentality about immigration tend to be fairly new immigrants themselves,” Smolenyak told me.
She pulled out her DeSantis research.
“He’s 100 percent Italian,” she said. “A lot of time you find one or two branches of a family coming from Italy. But with DeSantis, all eight of his great-grandparents were Italian immigrants.”
“So did they wait in lines to get permission to come to America?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “That’s not the way it worked then. You just showed up. And we took 98 percent of them. If you had a communicable disease, you’d be stopped. But even if you were sick, we’d have a hospital you could go to. We’d get you well and then you could stay here.”
Smolenyak says for the Italian immigrants who came here in the early 1900s, it was more of a matter of “village reunification” than “family reunification.”
“Whole villages in Italy would just come to America and stay here together,” she said. “It was more than just families.”
One of the odd things she noted about the DeSantis family tree is that his great-great-grandmother, Luigia Colucci, arrived in Ellis Island on Feb. 21, 1917, making the sea crossing with her two teenage daughters while the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, a law that barred “undesirable” immigrants in a variety of categories including being illiterate in their own native language.
The documents show that Colucci, who was eight months pregnant when she arrived with her teenage daughters, was coming to America to join her husband, who had entered the country 12 years earlier and living in Pennsylvania. And even though she couldn’t pass the literacy test, which was being able to read 30 to 40 words in Italian from an ordinary text, she was still admitted, pregnant and all, into the United States because the literacy law wasn’t enacted until May of that year.
Imagine that. Being a hardliner on immigration back then wasn’t insisting new arrivals be able to read in English, but new arrivals being able to read in their native language.
And I guess, you could say that Colucci’s baby, who would be DeSantis’ great uncle, was an “anchor baby” born in America weeks after the arrival of the baby’s illiterate, undocumented mother.
“Those who are less than welcoming of immigrants often proudly state that their ancestors came here legally, while failing to appreciate (or perhaps deliberately ignoring) how meaningless this claim is,” Smolenyak wrote. “Until a century ago, unless you were Chinese or Japanese (nationalities targeted by earlier legislation), this amounted to showing up at a U.S. port of entry.
“This is exactly what Luigia did, and what today’s asylum applicants are doing,” Smolenyak wrote. “The difference is that this process wasn’t criminalized until 2018.”
What’s the Italian word for “hypocrite”?