I am a first-generation American. My father was born in the north of Ireland. Driven by the poverty of the land, he immigrated to America. Here he found the opportunity to master his trade as a carpenter and earn a decent living.
My mother was born in the north of Italy. She saw no future for herself there, and so at seventeen she came to America to seek a better way of life. She became a traveling companion and a tutor in French and Italian in a wealthy home. She fell in love with a young Irishman and they were married.
One thing was always crystal clear to me: my parents loved America and cherished the freedom and opportunities this land provided. I remember well the day in 1929 when I returned from grade school and saw them holding their heads in their hands and weeping. The Olney National Bank had closed, and except for a small equity in the house and my father’s tools, all they had in the way of financial resources was gone. I can still see that Irish determination on my father’s face as he decided that this was not the end, that he could indeed start over again.
I also remember when sewers were being dug in front of our rowhouse in the northeast section of Philadelphia. The Italian ditch-diggers were my friends, and I often ate lunch with them during those summer days. One day when I came in all covered with mud, my mother said, “Robert, if you want to get ahead in America, somehow you’ve got to get a college education.” That was the first time I had ever heard of a college education. But I entered college in 1937 and was graduated in theology from Princeton in 1943.
It is through this kind of background that I must filter all my thinking about America. I found in my parents and in the opportunities they found here the ...1
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