My Father Was an Immigrant

March 7, 2019 - por

My Father Was an Immigrant

As we launch this campaign for president, you deserve to know where I come from – because family history heavily influences the values that we adopt as adults.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in a three-and-a-half room rent-controlled apartment. My father was a paint salesman who worked hard his entire life, but never made much money. My mother raised my brother and me.

I learned a great deal about immigration as a child because my father came to this country from Poland at the age of 17, without a nickel in his pocket. He came to escape the crushing poverty that existed in his community, and to escape widespread anti-Semitism. It was a good thing that he left Poland when he did because virtually his entire family there was wiped out by Nazi barbarism.

I am not going to tell you that I grew up in a home of desperate poverty. That would not be true. But what I will tell you is that coming from a lower middle class family I will never forget how money – or really lack of money – was always a point of stress in our home.

My mother’s dream was that someday our family would move out of that rent-controlled apartment to a home of our own. That dream was never fulfilled. She died young while we were still living in that rent-controlled apartment.

My experience as a kid, living in a family that struggled economically, powerfully influenced my life and my values. Unlike Donald Trump, who shut down the government and left 800,000 federal employees without income to pay the bills, I know what it’s like to be in a family that lives paycheck to paycheck.

I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos and country clubs. I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of 3. As I recall, my allowance was 25 cents a week.

But I had something more valuable: I had the role model of a father who had unbelievable courage in journeying across an ocean, with no money in his pocket, to start a new and better life.

I did not come from a family of privilege that prepared me to entertain people on television by telling workers: “You’re fired.” I came from a family who knew all too well the frightening power employers can have over everyday workers.

I did not come from a politically connected family whose multinational corporation got special tax breaks and subsidies. I came from a family where my parents paid their taxes and understood the important role that government plays in a democracy.

I did not come from a family that could afford to send my brother and me to an elite boarding school. In fact, I was educated in high quality public schools in Brooklyn and began the first year of my college life at Brooklyn College.

Having attended an excellent public college that was then virtually tuition free while living in a rent-controlled apartment, I can assure you that my family believed that government in a democratic society had a very important role to play in protecting working families.

I did not come from a family that taught me to build a corporate empire through housing discrimination. I protested housing discrimination, was arrested for protesting school segregation, and attended Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington for jobs and freedom.

I know where I came from, and that is something I will never forget.

Over the last few years, you and I and millions of Americans have stood up and fought for justice in every part of our society. And we’ve had some successes.

Together, as billionaires and large corporations have attacked unions, destroyed pensions, deregulated the banks, and slashed wages, we have succeeded in raising the minimum wage to $15 in states and cities across the country. We have also forced large corporations like Amazon and Disney to do the same. And we have supported teachers who successfully stood up for their kids in strike after strike after strike.

Together, as the forces of militarism have kept us engaged in unending wars, we have stood arm-in-arm to fight back. For the first time in 45 years, we have utilized the War Powers Act to move us forward in ending the horrific Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Together, as so many of our young people have received criminal records for nonviolent offenses, we have fought to end the war on drugs, and have seen state after state decriminalize marijuana, and have seen communities expunge the criminal records of those arrested on these charges.

Let’s be honest: while we have won some victories, our struggles have not always been successful. But I am here to tell you, that because of all the work we have done, we are now on the brink of winning not just an election, but transforming our country.

When we are in the White House, we will enact a federal jobs guarantee, to ensure that everyone is guaranteed a stable job. There is more than enough work to be done in this country. Let’s do it.

When we are in the White House we will attack the problem of urban gentrification and build the affordable housing our nation desperately needs.

When we are in the White House we will end the decline of rural America, reopen those rural hospitals that have been closed, and make sure that our young people have decent jobs so they do not have to leave the towns they grew up in and love.

When we are in the White House, we will move aggressively to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country and pass the common sense gun safety legislation that the overwhelming majority of Americans want. People who should not have guns will not have guns.

When we are in the White House, we are going to address not only the disparities of wealth and income that exist in our country, but we will address the racial disparities of wealth and income. We are going to root out institutional racism wherever it exists. Not only will we end voter suppression, we are going to make it easier for people to vote – not harder.

When we are in the White House, we are going to protect a woman’s right to control her own body. That is her decision, not the government’s.

Make no mistake about it, this struggle is not just about defeating Donald Trump. This struggle is about taking on the incredibly powerful institutions that control the economic and political life of this country. I’m talking about Wall Street, the insurance companies, the drug companies, the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the fossil fuel industry and a corrupt campaign finance system that enables billionaires to buy elections.

Brothers and sisters, we have an enormous amount of work ahead of us. But I believe if we stand together, if we don’t allow Trump and his friends to divide us up, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.