Saturday, January 31, 2015

Joey Vento, a very decent man

He said some uncomfortable truths, even though it took a while to figure out what he meant. He'll be missed

Joey Vento, a very decent man

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It won't be the same wid-out him

I only met Joey Vento one time.  It was at an event sponsored by a local radio station, and he was there to talk about his views on immigration.   As a result of his “Speak English” campaign, Joey had become a hero and de facto leader of the grass roots movement to support restrictions on what he called-in his charming South Philly accent-“uleeguls.”

 As a person who makes her living working with “uleeguls,” you wouldn’t think I’d have much affection for the man.

 You’d be dead wrong.

 Joey Vento was a genuine human being, someone who wasn’t afraid to espouse unpopular views or defend himself against an onslaught of political correctness.  The people who thought they could shame him into silence underestimated his courage, his character and, quite frankly, his base of support.

 I didn’t agree with Joey about immigration.  I thought  his unwillingness to recognize that then- Mayor Lou Barletta’s attempt to make Hazelton an immigrant-free zone was  ultimately doomed to failure because of federal pre-emption (although recent court decisions have shown that there’s still life in it, just as there’s life in the restrictive legislation coming out of Arizona, Alabama and elsewhere.)

 A lot of people in this country disagree with me about that, as I know Joey did.  But the difference between so many of them, and the  scrappy, tattooed cheese steak king is that he was able to challenge the so-called ‘pro-immigrant’ position without devolving into bigoted rants.  He simply believed that people should follow the rules.

 The problem with that position is that it’s a little simplistic, given the fact that the rules as they currently exist make it virtually impossible to have a coherent immigration policy.  But Joey was someone who was all about fairness, and when he saw people entering the country without permission, he didn’t think it was fair to those who were at least trying to immigrate legally.

 And I get that.  It’s not racist to say that you have to obey the law.  It might be a little utopian to believe that people are going to follow laws that will break up their families, or force them to wait more than a decade to be able to live here legally.  But it’s not racist, it’s not bigoted, and it’s not discriminatory.

 Neither was Joey’s policy about English.  This is a man who, with a few dollars and not much education, created a multi-million dollar business.  He didn’t do it by investing Daddy’s money in some mutual funds. He didn’t  take handouts from a government that doesn’t keep track of the money it disburses.  He wasn’t one of those people who play the lottery in hopes that luck, and not hard work, would make them rich.  He dragged his butt to work every day, hours before the sun came up, and pursued the American dream.

  Frankly, he’s exactly the model most so-called ‘uleegals’  follow, with the one exception that he had the benefit of being born here.  Other than that, Joey was an immigrant success story, someone who didn’t let other people do for him.  He did for himself.  And then, he did for others.

 Everyone knows about Joey’s philanthropy, his support of the police, his willingness to write a check for a stranger in need.    This man was a humanitarian.

 Which is why this city owed-but never gave him-an apology .  That show trial before the Human Relations Commission was a travesty, fueled by the elites who talk the good talk about civil rights but who wouldn’t dirty their hands in a soup kitchen.   These are the type of people who are so quick to point fingers at the Joey Ventos of the world because they have the audacity to demand accountability.  Truly, how horrible is it to ask someone to speak English?  I lived in Italy, I spoke Italian.  I lived in France, I spoke French. How does it shame someone to ask them to converse in the language of their adopted country?  And how, pray tell, does this violate their civil rights?

 I have a theory that some of the advocates who say they support immigrants would be happy to keep them in un-assimilated ghettos where advancement is stymied by an inability to communicate.  It keeps them needy.  And that gives some of them political capital.

 When I heard that Joey had died, I thought of these words from one of my favorite poems, Invictus:

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

  I have not winced nor cried aloud.

 

Under the bludgeonings of chance

 

  My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

 Most of the immigrants I know follow that philosophy.  So did Joey.  May he rest in peace.

 

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See Christine Flowers on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

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