February 06, 2019Editor's note: Rick Liblong's column regarding 'We the People' brought up some memories for me, including writing this column about eight years ago. Here it is again:
Going through some boxes I stumble across a letter to the editor I penned to the Detroit News published on May 28, 1984.
The editor chose the headline 'Statue of Liberty: Preserving a Symbol.' I re-read my words and remember when Lady Liberty was in bad shape and as always here in the U.S., government can't come up with funds to preserve it and people don't care enough to do anything about it. Americans live in a throw away society. We toss out things as soon as they're used up. History has little value in the push, push, push ahead culture we embrace.
For those who may recall, in the early '80s, Lee Iacocca takes up the cause to save the Statue of Liberty. I support that and shout out to others to do so. And many, many do. Over the course of a couple of years millions are donated for the restoration project. Following is what I wrote to the newspaper and its readers about it:
"The publicity push to preserve the Statue of Liberty seems to have taken a back seat. Over the weekend my family and I attended an annual celebration of the Feast of the Madonna, which was sponsored by and held for the Society of Pescosolido, the descendants from a small village in Italy.
Sadly I experienced what could be the last of an era, which brought to light just exactly how important the statue and what it stands for should be in all of our lives. I was fortunate enough to sit next to an Italian immigrant who has eased gracefully into his 80s. He produced for me a booklet that was printed when the 'Societa' was originally formed in 1923. It bore my grandfather's name.
I discovered that America and its people may have lost something valuable along the road to greatness. He spoke in broken English of coming to Detroit in the '20s in search of opportunity and money.
He spoke of the Depression, of being laid off from factory work and penniless, and of a foreman giving him $2 and how it felt like $200. He spoke too of unions and crooked judges seeking bribes from non-English speaking immigrants in return for promises of transport for their brothers, sisters, uncles and cousins to this country of promise and wealth. His children spoke of being dragged around on Sundays to visit the "paisanos" because they were their own, all they had and they took care of one another.
His children's children, like me, are the byproducts of progression, mobility, education and opportunities. We were practically born into everything this gentleman and our parents strived for. I realized, however, that we are missing something important seemingly inherent in these people. We (my generation of Societa descendants) do not know each other's names. We will not, most likely, sponsor a celebration year after year for the purpose of getting together to appreciate our background. We will not visit each other on Sundays...too many things are happening now. We say life has become more complicated.
We can all look back into our histories and find people just like these who encountered infinitely more complications in just arriving in the United States and forming new lives. We have relatively simple lives in comparison. Yet they are somehow richer.
I offer this to my fellow Detroiters. We are a new "race" of Americans. By contributing to the Statue of Liberty restoration efforts, perhaps we can preserve and rekindle the wealth shared by our ancestors. Perhaps it is not too late to bring the wealth of human kindness, compassion and caring back into our lives and preserve the statue to stand as an everlasting symbol of this.
I sign the letter.
Online, the website www.pescosolido.net, which is written in Italian, I find out about the 'Societa.' Here's what it says in its English translation:
"Workers Mutual Aid Society of Pescosolido was born in Detroit (U.S.A.) in 1923. The first partners and founders were some of the Pescosolidianis that were found to work..." (it lists the names, including Carlo Minolli...many of the names I recognize). "They were 31, all residents of Detroit Mich. USA. The goal they set out to achieve was the same as other members of the workers: support each other in case of need (death, illness, unemployment etc.)"
I read that they did this because they were often taken advantage of, because of the language barrier, because of the tough times and their sense of community. They all contributed a certain amount of money when they were working which was used to take care of members and their families in the case of illness, death, unemployment, etc.
In 1929, Dr. Dominic Porfida "undertook to cure any disease of all members of the Workers Mutual Aid Pescosolido of an annual allowance of 200 lire... In 1931 benefits were extended to family members..."
For much of my childhood and adult life I attend the yearly 'Festa' of the Societa. Social Host Liability laws from our ever entitled, increasing litigious society put a kibosh on the celebrations in the early 1990s.
This is what I know.
Email Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.