Monday, August 9, 2010


I received a chain email this morning. Unless they're incredibly funny, I never pass them on, regardless of topic. I think chain letters are the poorest form of communication. Not only do we use another's (usually a stranger's) words to speak for ourselves, the letters often prey on everyone's superstitions, fears, hopes, weaknesses, and that all too human temptation to play whisper-down-the-lane.

This one, however, stuck with me like a flu bug, so I decided I had to respond. At first I thought I'd just hit reply-all, but what I want to say ought to be said openly, so, although I rarely use my blog as a blatant soapbox, this was important to me.

The chain letter began:
"Great grandfathers watched as their friends died in the Civil War.
"My father watched as his friends died in WW II.
"And I watched as my friends died in Vietnam."

I can't reproduce the entire letter--it's too long--but here are some other statements:

"I'm standing up because the hundreds of thousands who died fighting in wars for this country, and for the American flag."
"Let me make this clear! THIS IS MY COUNTRY!"
"This statement DOES NOT mean I'm against immigration!"

First of all, I have to admit, none of my great-grandfathers watched their friends die in the American Civil War. (At the same time, none were slave-traders, nor did they slaughter Indians and run them off their lands.)

However, here's the story of my great-grandpop, Carmen Ronca. In the 1880s, he worked in the marble quarries of Italy, which was dangerous and back-breaking. He could read. So he wanted to come to America, then bring over his wife and children. He didn't except streets paved with gold; he just wanted a better life and more opportunities for his family. He was poor, so when a chance to work his way over to America in the boiler room of a Portugese steamer came up, he jumped at it. What he didn't realize was that the steamer's crew took advantage of his enthusiasm and ignorance of their language. The steamer landed, not in North America, but in South America.

Carmen was able to work his way north as far as Mexico and tried to use his papers at the Texas border. The officials told him no, he had to go to Ellis Island. He didn't have the money. Meantime, the U.S. railroads were hiring Mexicans (because, gee, they worked cheaper and would do work Americans were unwilling to do in conditions Americans wouldn't touch), so Carmen was hired as a Mexican to build and repair America's railroads. Technically, he was an illegal immigrant. After a year or so of this, when he was in Pittsburgh, he was told they were sending him back to Mexico. He showed his immigration papers, and some sane official processed him through Brownsville, PA. He got a job in coal mine, in even more horrendous working conditions, but was finally able to bring his wife and family over to America. After a few years, he move to eastern PA to be near other relatives. He worked in the limestone quarries. Limestone, Carmen said, was at least easier to cut than marble, and he was out in the fresh air.

Carmen never became a citizen, but he flew both the American and Italian flags over his house every day of the rest of his life. His sons fought in World War I, and his grandsons in World War II. Somewhere in the U.S. Army archives is a photo of Richard Ronca holding the Nazi flag after his unit liberated the town of Colmar, France. Major Robert Ronca served in Korea, then led the first air mission over North Vietnam. A few weeks later he was killed in action when his plane was shot down.

One other story: my grandfather, Giuseppe Ciccocioppo, came to America in 1912. Even before becoming a citizen, he served in the U.S. Army in World War I. He kept his Army nickname, Joe Chicco, because Americans treated him better. During World War II, Joe would walk down to the train station each day to see off or welcome home troops. His son Francis served in the Army in Europe. His other son, Joe B. Chicco, served in the Navy aboard the USS Mobile in every major naval engagement from August 1943 to the end of the war. You can read this son's WW2 diary at As a result of his service, Joe B. also suffered from severe chronic PTSD until the day he died.

I get a little tired of folks like the person who wrote that email, who seem to think immigrants have nothing to do with America's war sacrifices. Take a look through the database at -- of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, most don't have your basic Sons of the American Revolution names. A big percentage are Hispanic, and a huge percentage of those are Mexican.

Whoever wrote that email had an ancestor who was an immigrant--doesn't matter how far back in time you go. Yet, in saying he's not against immigration, he shows that he sets himself apart from, and obviously in his own mind, superior to, immigrants.

He says this is HIS country. Well, no sir, it isn't. America is a democracy, which means none of us can lay singular claim to it. We share ownership, and stewardship. And all of us are descendants of immigrants.

Please don't let people like this spread hate and division. The world doesn't need any more of either.


1 comment:

Michele C said...

You are amazing. Well written and well said. Maria Ronca Comunale, daughter of Carmen was my Great Great Grandmother. I never knew the story of what Carmen went thru. We will have to chat. I have sen Robert on The Wall, and I kne we must be related, but I did not know who his father was.


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