spent a substantial portion of my adulthood on both sides of that
barrier that separates the patrons from the potables, I know from
experience just how territorial people can be about what they perceive
to be an almost God-given right to a particular place at the bar. And
any newcomer to the establishment that infringes upon that preordained
seating arrangement, at the very least, might be subject to a less than
welcoming glance from those that believe that their time at the tavern
affords them special considerations. |
I have always believed that if you observe human behavior on a small
scale, one will gain much insight into the overall nature of mankind.
And watching the masses jockeying for position at the bar in the hope of
getting those rewards that await them on the other side reminds me very
much of our current attitude towards those that may have entered the
saloon, or crossed our borders, without the proper credentials. And with
another heated presidential election season in full swing, the hand
wringing and wrangling over the issue of immigration will once again be
at the forefront of the fear mongering laundry list of political issues.
Our mercurial position on the matter has always been dictated by
economic self interest, and by our own personal prejudice for or against
that particular group seeking safe haven on these shores.
During my time as a bartender at Manhattan’s Peter McManus Cafe
during the late 80s, I experienced a very different response to some of
those that were here in the country illegally. Although these new Irish
immigrants were not facing anything equal to the hardships and
devastation caused by the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century, an
abysmal economy at home had driven them to seek employment throughout
the five boroughs of New York. And while these expatriates were not
about to take on anything as ambitious as digging a canal or building a
transcontinental railroad, a number of rundown city neighborhoods did
experience gentrification as a result of this ready, willing and
able-bodied pool of affordable labor.
The same friendly pubs that cashed the checks of these undocumented
workers would garner a quick reward for their blind eye courtesy in the
form of an ever increasing thirsty patronage that could spend many hours
treating their homesickness with a generous dose of beer and whiskey.
The local collection plates also benefited from those displaced souls
who still adhered to the tradition of mass on Sunday, no matter how many
pints were consumed during the previous evening’s session. So it was no
small wonder at the time that there would be advocacy and a call for
amnesty from both the politicians and those in the pulpit who shared a
common heritage with those that were now living in the shadows of
As we once more face the challenge of constructing policy that is just
and reasonable not only for those who are coming into the country, but
also for those that have established their rightful citizenship, let us
be mindful of the fact that much of this nation’s good fortune and
success can be attributed to that longstanding tradition of inclusion.
Furthermore, the vast majority of immigration, legal or otherwise, is
driven by conditions that if faced by any human being would prompt those
people to seek a better life elsewhere, regardless of the cost or
personal risk. In the course of our own history, Americans have crossed
or moved the borders to suit our individual and national needs—and in
many instances without sufficient concern for the wellbeing of those who
would be impacted by such actions.
Lastly, let us not forget that within most of us resides this
deep-seated desire to bridge the divide that separates all humans from
our point of origin in the universe. In an attempt to make that journey
we have adopted principles, philosophies and religious beliefs that call
upon us to transcend culture, race, and national identity in our
dealings with each other. For if any of us are to draw from that
wellspring of knowledge, or to partake of that holy nectar—we must first
find a way to sit together on this side of the bar.