An important lesson on immigration from a foreign land

By Judy Weiser
Photo by: Debbie Weiser Judy Weiser traveled half way around the world to learn an important lesson about the actions then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and the brave decision he made in 1958 to help refugees from a natural disaster.

My adult daughter and I recently traveled to The Azores, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean about two hours by air from Portugal and four and half hours from Boston. Reading travel books and articles about the Azores intrigued me. The geology of volcanoes and earthquakes fascinated my daughter.

We purposely chose to be away from the United States over the time of the Inauguration of the 45th President. We needed the adventure to lift our spirits.

Top of our “must see” list on the Island of Faial was the Capelinhos Volcano and Lighthouse.  Capelinhos erupted over a 13-month period during 1957-58 and created rivers of newly formed Earth crust.  I wanted to walk on land that was formed since my birth.

The walk on this ‘young ground’ provided me with a stark realization of how far our country has come during my lifetime and how far the federal government has fallen in just the past 100-plus days.

During our ride to Capalinhos, we passed a large sign that played tribute to John F. Kennedy and the Rue (road) that had been named in honor of the American President. That made us curious.

Our tour guide informed the volcanic eruptions changed the agricultural lands and had left them covered with ash, pumice and sand. The lack of sunlight devastated family farms and for all practical purposes ended the thriving fishing industry virtually overnight.

After studying the natural calamity, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. John Pastor of Rhode Island introduced legislation that allowed people from the Azores and the nearby island of Pico who had been impacted by the volcanic eruptions to fast-track immigration to the United States. The swift legislative action allowed more than 4,000 people from Faial to relocate to the United States. Most of them settled in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Today, the largest number of immigrants from the Azores anywhere in the world can be found in the Boston area.

We saw many of the homes that had been abandoned before 1960 after volcanic eruptions and earthquake during our tour of Faial. On the very same day, we were saddened to hear the news from homes that our 45th President had wasted no time in issuing an Executive Order that blocked new Immigration from several (predominantly Muslim) countries.

The news made us wonder. Would Congress (or President Eisenhower) have turned away the refugees from the Azores simply because they were Catholic?

Learning how America welcomed the people of Faial who sought refuge made me appreciate the wisdom of our nation to welcome the people of the Azores who have brought the richness of their culture to their new home. People whose lives had been turned upside-down from the devastation found new homes in communities in New England that welcomed their new neighbors.

Our visit to a far-away land helped me to think about immigration and the plight of those seeking refuge from troubled lands. Immigrants who are forced to leave their ancestral homes and start new lives should be encouraged to keep their families safe and be welcome to a safe haven on our shores.

The people from the Azores also made me think about my own father and his family who immigrated to America in 1938 from Nazi Germany and settled in California. Was the plight of my own family so different than the Muslims who have applied to immigrate to the US to escape bloody regimes of terrorists in the Middle East?

We could learn a lesson from the immigrants from our recent history who have worked to build a new life their adopted homeland. Our nation should not turn away people who cherish freedom and liberty. We should open our arms to welcome families who share the common values of family and community.

We must find ways to expand immigration for people who truly understand of what it means to be an American.