Jimmy Breslin and Donald Trump were both born in Queens. But while Trump represents the New York City borough as grasping, aggressive and grating, Breslin, who died March 19 at 88, represented it as authentic, ethnic and expansive.
Of course, Trump had a cushier background than Breslin. And today’s Queens is not the Queens into which either Breslin or Trump was born. Over both of their lifetimes, it became a regular United Nations.
Breslin embraced the change, defending these immigrants when necessary, as with his book The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez, investigating the construction accident that killed a Mexican immigrant. Breslin knew what the President still needs to learn: that these are the people who can help make America “great”–just as Jimmy Breslin’s words and passion did.
Troy is a history professor at McGill University and the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s
This appears in the April 03, 2017 issue of TIME.