As a youngster, I was raised in a fairly large city in New Jersey so close to Manhattan I could see the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty from my school.

We lived in an apartment on a block-long street. I was third-generation Polish. Our landlord/neighbor and his wife were German Jews who had made a timely escape from the Nazis. Other neighbors were Czech and Italian.

Across the street lived a Hungarian family who had escaped the Communist takeover of their country by fleeing with their infant son through farm fields at night and hiding in haystacks during the day.

In school, my friends included second-generation Russians and Italians, many of whom spoke their parents’ native languages at home, as did my father when he spoke with his siblings on the phone. One of my teachers was a German Jew who had escaped his homeland before the war began, came to this country and enlisted and served in the U.S. Army. Others were second- and third-generation Dutch, German, Italian and so forth.

That landlord and his wife I mentioned had made it from Germany to Switzerland to Spain to Puerto Rico before arriving in the United States. He was multilingual. Each evening after working as a tailor, he would sit on the front porch smoking smelly cigars and reading The New York Times and New York newspapers printed in Spanish and Yiddish.

We were proud to be a part of this polyglot of languages and cultures.

It is said one could eat the food of a different culture each night for a year in New York City. Hearing a number of different languages was a part of life no one objected to. We were proud to be known as the refuge of so many people in the world. We learned to recite the Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” (“Give me your tired . . .”) as we did the Pledge of Allegiance.

We also knew that, while these immigrants “took” jobs from Americans, they also created jobs to take care of their needs for food, clothing, furniture, shelter, etc. They were helping build our economy. Were some on a version of welfare? Certainly, but they worked their way off it just as today’s immigrants do.

I remember public service announcements on television helping us understand all this. One jingle will never leave my mind. It starts, “A Cu, a Witz, an Of, or Ski, when added to a name, merely tells us the family or land from which it came.”

Were there people who disliked these immigrants? Certainly. But their hatred was not something acceptable to the public in general.

Also, the level of their hatred was not nearly as virulent as those of many today or those who a hundred years before would advertise jobs with the letters, “NINO" (No Irish Need Apply).

I miss the days when we were a nation proud to be a beacon of hope for the world, an example of the kindness and concern for those in need. Now we’re given ridiculously inflated stories of crime and welfare costs of immigrants.

When I mention my grandparents were immigrants, the rejoinder of some is, “Well, they came here legally.” My answer has been, “It wasn’t illegal to come to this country then.”

Many claim we are a Christian country, yet we are ignoring the direction of the Old Testament to take care of the aliens in our midst, and of the New Testament to love our neighbors.

Sad.

Joe Midzalkowski is a retired elementary school teacher who also served in the Peace Corps volunteer in the Marshall Islands for five years. He lives in Highland City.