Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

Immigrants Built the U.S. Economy

Immigrants Built the U.S. Economy 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

John Francis Houlihan, Michael’s grandfather, came to the U.S. from Ireland in the late 1800s at just 19 years old. The only trip he could book was to New York, on an ocean steamer loaded up with cattle. All the immigrants were required to make the trip above deck, fully exposed to the harsh North Atlantic weather. It was windy and cold, and the immigrants would huddle against the smokestacks at night to keep warm. It was a grueling trip. But it was on that trip that John met Michael’s grandmother, Nellie, who was also a teenager, and they were soon in love.

When they finally arrived at Ellis Island, they were kept in prison-like housing until they were able to prove that they could provide gainful careers. In those days, correspondence took forever, so they stayed imprisoned for many months. Eventually, John heard that he was offered a job cleaning the Sutro Stable, the San Francisco Police Department’s horse stables. John knew horses, but didn’t leave until a job was also secured for Nellie. She was offered a job as a washerwoman in a San Francisco boarding house.

When they arrived in San Francisco, they came face-to-face with prejudice and open hostility toward Irish immigrants because they would take low wages for lowly jobs. And, they were seen as un-American “papists” because of their Catholicism that originated from the Pope.

They were able to scrape up enough money in the years that followed to make a down payment on their own boarding house. After diligently studying the constitution and becoming naturalized citizens, they earned their American right to vote. John was able to work his way up in the stable and became Head Horseman. And Nellie provided cleaning services for transients and managed room rentals.

Unexpectedly, an 8.6 magnitude earthquake and ensuing fire demolished San Francisco in 1906. The Sutro Stable went up in flames, taking all of the horses’ lives except the mayor’s prized Percheron horses. Despite all the confusion and tragedy, John put his life on the line to save the horses. The mayor asked how he could possibly thank him, to which John replied, “Make me a beat cop in the Irish ghetto,” which was the Mission District. It was where John and Nellie called home.

John in fact did serve as a beat cop, where he would walk the streets of the Mission District for four decades. He kept the peace, fought crime, helped during times of need, and served the citizens. He witnessed the reconstruction of San Francisco. He was at the Panama Pacific Exhibition in 1915. The Palace of Fine Arts is the only building remaining from the World Fair that showed the rest of the world that San Francisco was open for business.

John witnessed World War I and saw the flood of Italian immigrants that traveled to the Mission right after. He saw average Americans being forced by Prohibition to break the law. He witnessed the Great Depression, Prohibition’s repeal, and WWII. He saw countless waves of immigrants move into the Mission and work their way toward a better life, just like he did.

During all of that, John and Nellie had three children, two of which died during childbirth. The surviving child, John Charles Houlihan and Michael’s father, was a public servant. He worked alongside others to create containerized shipping. This revolutionized the shipping industry, and reduced shrinkage (or pilfering by dockworkers). Containers could now be locked. This feature alone cut worldwide commerce costs significantly. Container ports were popping up all around the world in the 1970s and ‘80s. Shipping became safe, reliable, and efficient. This means of shipping became the world standard.

American Immigrants Do Not Take Citizenship for Granted

Michael spent his childhood summers with his Irish grandpa, who constantly spoke of the great opportunity America offered him to get ahead. He assured Michael that hard work would pay off in the US. He praised the advantages of American citizenship and was deeply thankful for his chance to get ahead until the very day that he died.

John and his son returned the favor to the country in many different ways, but their lives and their work have improved the lives of many Americans. Think about all the jobs that containerized shipping has created and all the jobs created by Barefoot Wine.

Immigrants are the economy’s backbone. They are the reason why America is “Great”. With open arms, let’s welcome those immigrants who want to work and show their gratitude for the chance to improve their lives. In order to earn the right to vote and become citizens, they must learn about the divisions of government, the right to vote, and why these laws exist, as well as the checks and balances they provide the country.

Americans who are born here don’t have this requirement. They can vote without all of that knowledge, and they can choose to not vote at all. Usually, immigrants don’t take their citizenship for granted. They are eager to understand our government, and they are eager to vote.

Let’s think more about the value of immigrants. Let’s all take the time and effort to vote! Democracy certainly isn’t something that immigrants take for granted. So why should any of us?

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