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Saturday, December 19, 2015

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I kind of roll my eyes when I hear people make such statements about their immigrant ancestors (and a related implication that because their ancestors had it bad they, the descendants, merit a special admiration (not sure if that was what Sanders was trying to do, just saying that I've heard it before)). I don't know about Sanders's case, but my understanding is that immigrants came over largely as part of networks: someone else had come and was here to help the later arrivals. So even if someone doesn't have a nickel, they have connections of a sort.

Of course, that doesn't explain how the first person in the chain arrived, and I don't mean to discount how challenging it must've been to negotiate life in a new country,connections or no connections. And connections weren't all they were cracked up to be. In some situations, the "connection" was an exploitative, quasi-indentured servitude situation, or the opportunity to pay a bribe to a foreman in exchange for a job. Even more benign connections could imply onerous obligations, e.g., to help others from the family or town to settle (or not....there was a lot of return migration pre-1924).

Sanders's manifest reference was related to the American dream and the hopes of people who start out with little or nothing, but I think you're right about an implicit allusion to special status that can attach to the descendant-teller of the story, not all that different from other forms of pride people take in ancestors, sometimes even in notorious (within limits) ancestors.

In the research of my own family, every arrival declared a friend or family member with whom they were to stay. According to his immigration-customs record, Sanders father was going to stay with an "uncle," Abraham Louis Horn, who resided in Brooklyn. I hadn't known previously that Sanders's father, Eli Sanders, changed his name prior to 1940. He arrived in the US in 1921, age 17, as Eliasz Gitman and is subsequently cross-referenced as Elias Sanders and Eli Sanders, a painter, married to Dorothy. I guess Sanders isn't really a Polish-Jewish name.

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