Commentary: A Letter to Joe Biden and a Reflection on America

Dear Mr. Biden,
Two hours ago, I heard you on a radio broadcast from Wilmington, Del. Your statements and speech will be forever recorded because of modern technology. As I write this letter, this year’s presidential election still hangs in the balance. 

Your speech reminded me of what this country is all about. For me, the most telling statement you made in regards to the election process is that political opponents are not the “enemy.”

We live in a democratic nation where we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are the United States of America. Certainly, our history has recorded many battles and conflicts that have come from outside our boundaries. 

And sadly, our history includes far too many chapters of battles and conflicts that we have inflicted on each other from within. This very election year, we have been a part of some very sad displays of people and events that will remind those who come after us that there is always work to do to maintain what our country, our Constitution and our heritage is all about.

Back in the 1990s, an immigrant memorial wall was established to honor the people – some 12 million of them – who made their way to Ellis Island and this country in the hopes that a new and better life would welcome them. We know that the entry process was not easy. Just getting here took acts of heroism. Newcomers were often taken advantage of and there were probably evenings when some of the new arrivals wondered why they made the trip. 

Yet here we all are. The Statue of Liberty still beckons in Upper New York Bay and the torch still burns for freedom, just as it did for those coming through Ellis Island. 

Around the time the memorial opened, my cousin, Martha, gathered our family and  suggested we honor our maternal grandparents,  – Joseph and Mary Koly – who were part of the part of the wave in the early 20th century. They came here from the Tatra Mountains in Czechoslovakia. Joseph was 23 and Mary was 18.

Steel mill jobs in the Mahoning Valley were a magnet for newcomers. The cities and towns and villages that lined the Mahoning River were populated and grew to the point that the valley was referred to as “America’s Ruhr Valley,” which was a reference to a well known industrial area in Germany.                                                                                                                       G

Growing up here, the saying went like this: “If the sky is orange at night [because of the blast furnaces], then things are good and people are working.”

True indeed. Many of my relatives worked in the mills and in businesses that supported – or were supported by – them. 

The 1970s and 1980s dealt our community and many others in the Midwest some devastating blows as the steel industry was decimated for several reasons. Today, this part of that history is why we refer to many Midwestern areas as part of the Rust Belt.

In 2002, I had the privilege of going to visit Blazov, the town where my maternal grandmother grew up. I connected with relatives still in that area and visited the site where “Baba” was born. I stood there looking into the mountains and was very grateful for the honor to be there and shed some tears for the history of that small village that made its way to Ellis Island. Mr. Biden, it’s not my story, it’s our story. A story of a nation united because of our beliefs in something better.

All of the above and so much more flooded through my mind as I heard you speak just hours ago. Our nation is not perfect but it does have staying power. Our nation makes mistakes but it has real heroes who work to correct those mistakes. Our nation needs to heal many of our wounds, but we are right there to help other nations heal their wounds. Our nation is sometimes intolerant but we work so often to promote tolerance all over the planet.

Going back to your speech a few hours ago, I think we fight hard, we disagree with passion, we muster tremendous energy for causes and we are committed to something that still draws people to Ellis Island. 

May we never lose the unity which goes above and beyond our disagreements. 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.