Family photo points to importance of governor's race

Illinois had jobs for immigrants willing to work, but no more

Chicago Tribune political editor Eric Krol is joined by reporters Rick Pearson and Bob Secter to discuss the Illinois governor's race.

If you're a young person in Illinois, anxious as to whether there will be a future for you here in this economic wasteland of a state, you're probably not paying very close attention to the governor's race.

It's understandable. I have teenagers about to go to college. They say they're interested in politics, but I think they say that to humor me. Their disinterest is infuriating, but I understand why.

The politicians aren't talking to young people, anyway. They're talking to themselves and to reporters like me. They natter on and on, about scandals and who-has-clout. Guess what? They all have clout.

Meanwhile, Illinois is projected to have the worst job prospects in the country in 2014. Jobs leave, businesses leave. That's Illinois.

So if you're an unemployed college graduate with a mountain of college loan debt, I've got an idea: a photograph that might help.

If you have immigrants in your family tree — and just about everybody in America comes from someplace else — chances are you have one of those old photos.

The photo could be on the wall in your parents' home. Or, it might be in a family album, a photo of your ancestors, your family's early arrivals to America and to Illinois.

I haven't seen your family's photo, but I can guess.

The man is in his Sunday best, sitting straight-backed in a chair, in a dark suit. He's not smiling.

And his wife stands at his side in one of those stilted, old-country poses. Her face is stone on the day of her wedding.

They may have come from some green valley in Ireland. Or a port city in Poland, or from a state like Mississippi. They may have come from some hilltop village in Sicily outside Palermo like Montemaggiore Belsito, like my wife's family.

Or it they could have come from Mexico, or China or India, Russia, the South Pacific, or just about any other place.

Yet no matter where they come from, there are common features in all those old photos.

The first is that they're lean. There is a hardness in the faces, prominent cheekbones and hollows under the cheekbones.

This likely means they knew hunger in their old land. Not our modern missing a snack hungry, but real hunger, a wild greens for soup every day hunger with meat only in their dreams.

That's why most came to this place, to Illinois, to Chicago or Decatur or the other towns. Most weren't men and women of letters. Most were illiterate. They came here to eat and to be free.

And one other thing. They came to feed the ambition that couldn't be fed back home.

The second thing common to many such photographs is the eyes.

There is pain in their eyes, especially in the women, a darkness there. If they're your people, your grandparents or great-grandparents, then you've heard the stories and you know why.

Loss. They left everything behind them, their parents, siblings, their clan, to come to a new place they didn't quite understand. They couldn't even speak the language.

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