When Lady Gaga opened her Super Bowl halftime extravaganza with Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” I got up to make a sandwich.
The New York City Italiana superstar, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, had no idea of the pain that song evoked in my family.
My father arrived at Ellis Island from Italy a few years after Berlin who “was put in a pen with his brother and five sisters until immigration officials declared them fit to be allowed into the city,” according to the BBC.
Piling irony on irony, Berlin donated millions in GBA royalties to the Boy Scouts who today are grudgingly emerging from a century of bigotry.
The legendary composer (born Israel Isidore Baline in Imperial Russia) gave “God Bless America” to songstress Kate Smith who made it her signature hit.
Growing up as the son and grandson of Italian immigrant farm workers in Fresno, California, I was told repeatedly and passionately about Kate Smith supporting internment of Italian-Americans in WW2 concentration camps. Like Japanese-Americans, my family would have lost everything earned after decades in the fields. My father and mother likely would never have married.
So an Italian girl singing Kate Smith’s goldest oldie sent me to the kitchen.
“During World War II, 600,000 undocumented Italian immigrants in the United States were deemed ‘enemy aliens’ and detained, relocated, stripped of their property or placed under curfew. A couple hundred were even locked in internment camps,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in the emotional aftermath of 9/11/2001.
“Ironically, 500,000 Italian Americans were serving in the U.S. armed forces at the time of the crackdown – the largest ethnic group in the military. One serviceman returned from the war to find his family’s home boarded up. One woman received an evacuation order the day after she learned her son and her nephew in the U.S. military had been killed at Pearl Harbor,” the Chronicle noted.
Baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe DiMaggio’s father lost his job on a fishing boat. Italians were subjected to every indignity short of being forced to wear the equivalent of a yellow Star of David.
A fraudulent threat assessment by some racist general caused The American Century’s most shameful chapter.
Because of the aggressive deportation policies of our first black president, the average immigrant concentration camp today holds 41,000 prisoners for years on end. Tsar Trump has a huge record (2.4 million) to break.
Piling irony on irony, some African deportees are sent to countries where they are not citizens despite hard evidence to the contrary.
Sparks’ Kate Smith Elementary School opened in 1963. She was a product of her times. Now that storm troopers from an increasingly authoritarian government are indiscriminately rounding up immigrants, it’s time to remember that it can indeed happen here.
It already has, in the United States of America, with liberty and justice for some.
Dio benedica l’America.
Be well. Raise hell. / Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Barbano is a 48-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org> Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.