Writer Juliet Grames is asking her “white MAGA loving uncles” to acknowledge their alleged hypocrisy toward immigrants, in an open letter published in the Boston Globe.
Grames penned the June 20th letter, “An open letter to my white MAGA-voting uncles on the occasion of my Italian-born great aunt’s funeral,” breaking a three-year family ban on politics since a very tense Thanksgiving three years earlier.
“My family had more political disagreements during the Obama years and things got heated during the 2016 election so we dropped politics from our conversations,” Grames, a mother-of-one in Farmington, Conn., tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
But when Grames’ 97-year-old great-aunt passed away in April, she overheard family members disparage the funeral’s Catholic priest — his Indian ethnicity and his thick accent, and the darker skin tone of the painted Jesus at church.
“I tried to shut out those words from my head as I watched the priest sprinkle holy water on the coffin of our aunt — a little old lady much browner than that Jesus, who spoke English with a heavy accent, who never learned to read and write more than a few words in her own personal pidgin dialect,” wrote Grames. “But one of your children spoiled that service for me; one of your children felt comfortable enough espousing racist anti-immigrant rhetoric that they were happy to do it during a funeral.”
Grames, author of the new novel The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, which deals with Italian immigration, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “I was very troubled by it and I knew the culture of silence had to end. I wanted to remind my uncles, who had voted on the ‘other side’ of their ancestors.”
She wrote, “You loved our aunt, right? You thought she was wonderful? What about her late sister, your mother, the matriarch of your huge family? They were good people, right? Hard workers? Good Americans?: Your mother’s family came from Calabria, the state in the deep south of Italy that is best known for its ruthless and ubiquitous criminal syndicate, the ’Ndrangheta, though that name was not yet in use when they fled.”
Grames pinpointed the desperation felt by many families — including her own, which migrated to America in 1939, “six short months before Italy entered World War II as an Axis Power, which meant they were about to become ‘enemy aliens’ in their new homeland,” she wrote. “But you’d be angry if anyone ever implied they might have harbored anything but pure, good American thoughts, right?”
Additionally, she wrote, “You know they were fleeing that violence. So what, on paper or in practice, makes them different from the many wives and mothers fleeing violence and arriving at our borders today?”
On divided migrant families housed in detention camps — or “concentration camps,” as referenced recently by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — which reportedly deny detained children diapers, soap, and toothbrushes, Grames examined her ancestors’ journey to the U.S.
“They arrived without any English language skills at all. What if your mother’s little brother, your sweet uncle, who was nine years old on the day they arrived in 1939, had been separated from his mother and forced to “represent himself” in immigrant court?” she wrote. “Can you imagine your sweet, fragile grandmother, that master cook and child-rearer, not having a total nervous breakdown if her little boy was taken away from her? Can you imagine her, not speaking a lick of English, with no idea where her children had been taken and whether they were safe, locked up in an immigrant detention center or for-profit immigrant prison, like 200 facilities around the country currently incarcerating would-be Americans?”
Grames’ relatives had visas, but they were uneducated and with insufficient work experience — undesirable Green Card candidates today. “There would have been no path to citizenship for them. Their choices would have been to live here undocumented, work here illegally and without any protections, or to return to the poor, crime-ridden, war-torn land they came from,” she wrote. “What, on paper or in practice, makes them any different from the Mexicans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Haitians, and Ghanaians being detained by the thousands at the US’s borders today?”
Grames’s family has not acknowledged the letter since its publication last week. “No one has said a word about it,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I love my family and I hope they love me, and think about this — we don’t have to talk about it.”
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